Leslie Cooper: Meet the Arizona attorney who defended the MAS ban and the attack on DACA students

Arizona Assistant Attorney General Leslie Cooper either has a dream job or it must be a nightmare for her; Cooper gets paid to make life a nightmare for DREAMers and also for Mexican American students in TUSD.

Leslie Cooper is the attorney going after DACA and MAS students in Arizona.

Perhaps Cooper is just following orders, doing her job, but this Nuremberg defense can still make one an important part of the racist system that Arizona has set up against minorities today and perpetuating it.

The year 2014 was when our current Attorney General Mark Brnovich won the election, ousting the incumbent Tom Horne. Diane Douglas would take over as State Superintendent John Huppenthal. On his last day in office on January 3rd, 2015, Huppenthal would end his tenure in office the same way it began; he would ban the “MAS-lite” courses in TUSD that were created after the original Mexican American Studies were banned one year after he took office.

Less than two weeks later the MAS/HB2281 trial would be heard at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Arizona’s attorney, Leslie Cooper, was there to represent Brnovich during his first month in office in fighting the return of Mexican American Studies in Arizona to the very end.

Cooper’s defense was filled with examples of White Privilege, two of which we recall here:

  • White Privilege is when the attorney for the State of Arizona says in federal court (see video above) that Mexican American history classes in TUSD were right to be banned because they taught a “separate history that is not applicable to all students.
  • Another example of White Privilege that was on display in the federal courtroom (video above) had to deal with a question from the judge regarding whether the state law in Arizona would ban a class in San Francisco on Chinese History just because the majority of students that took the class were Chinese American. This question is especially relevant since San Francisco just passed an Ethnic Studies requirement for all high school students last month.The attorney for Arizona said that in Arizona, yes, these classes could be banned under this law.

Two years later, Cooper was once again defending the State of Arizona in Federal Court this summer, but before going in to this, we first bring to the reader’s attention another activity that Leslie Cooper has been involved with.

Making life a nightmare for DREAMers

The state of Arizona has been on the attack against DREAMers/DACA students for years.

The current Attorney General took the baton from his predecessor Tom Horne in trying to deny drivers’ licenses to DACA students and in trying to deny them the right to pay in-state tuition.

As a pure “coincidence,” after Maricopa and Pima Community Colleges started offering in-state tuition for DACA students, the state legislature and Governor Doug Ducey but state funding to MCC and PCC to ZERO.

Just this summer, the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the Superior Court and ruled that DREAMers are not eligible for in-state tuition. This now heads to the Arizona Supreme Court. Regarding the other attack on DACA students by our Attorney General, “A federal appeals court has ordered Arizona to provide licenses to DACA recipients. Brnovich has appealed that to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

In response, PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert issued a statement reaffirming the colleges commitment to DACA students and that:

In the meantime, there will be no change to tuition rates for DACA students at Pima Community College. Students can find information about financial resources and other support on our website.

Pima Community College remains fully supportive of our DACA students and, indeed, all of our students. PCC is committed to providing a supportive and inclusive environment, celebrating and recognizing our richly diverse community of learners.

Now what does all this have to do with the Mexican American Studies trial? Guess who is the person leading Arizona’s attack on DACA students trying to educate themselves?

Leslie Cooper is in charge of leading the attack by the state of Arizona against DACA and MAS students.

Leslie Cooper either has a DREAM job of doing exactly what she believes should be done in dealing with the education of Latino students in Arizona — making it as hard as possible — or… it doesn’t matter because her actions speak louder than words.

Now regarding her words about MAS in Federal Court…

Don’t believe anything these Mexicans say!

Last Friday, July 21st, a disheveled Leslie Cooper showed up in Federal Court after two weeks of this MAS trial. This was the last day and it would be devoted to closing arguments.

The MAS attorneys included a diverse array of people – Black, Jewish, Latino, Asian, White — whereas the attorneys for the state defending the ban of Mexican American Studies were all white. I know, I know, race doesn’t matter except when it does and in Arizona that is everyday.

Cooper showed up with bed-head and a suit that was wrinkled from head to toe, which demonstrated a lack of respect for the Court or perhaps the nightmares she makes Latinos live through were starting to affect her own peace of mind. Cooper just decided to throw Hail Marys and literally talk shit during her entire closing argument!

The MAS Plaintiffs had a super-professional presentation that was masterfully argued by Steven Reiss, whereas the arguments by Cooper were a mess; was she finally getting tired of attacking Latinos or was she just so frustrated that they destroyed her during the past two weeks?

We provide some excerpts below for your enjoyment:

There’s almost no evidence at all about Arizona legislators, let alone evidence that they acted with discriminatory intent against Mexican-Americans.

This is laughable, of course, but notice the use of the word “almost.” Almost no evidence implies there is evidence that the state legislature acted with discriminatory intent against Mexican-Americans.

There is no link anywhere between support for HB2281 and other anti-immigrant legislation. No evidence from the legislative hearings, the official record, that shows that HB2281 was passed in a climate that was charged with animus against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

During the rebuttal, Reiss would point out the many times they DID provide evidence on this and other things that Cooper would say. She turned into a liar, saying they didn’t do this and they didn’t do that when the record clearly shows they did! Regardless, is this really what Cooper believes, that Huppenthal, the co-sponsor of SB1070 who wants to ban all Spanish including on radio and billboards had no racial animus by passing HB2281 in the same month as SB1070?

What we know, the program was small, never more than three percent of Tucson’s student body at its peak. And we know that it never really had an impact on TUSD’s dismal academic performance.

Flat-out lie.

MAS teacher Curtis Acosta told us about the program as well. He is a teacher who honored Che Guevara with a place on the wall of his classroom next to John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. He offered the statement that, well, the students asked for the poster to be placed there, without apparently understanding that it might be the role of the teacher to address and provide the necessary context around that.

A teacher who would not even admit that it was disrespectful to prepare a rap to perform at a student-led festival, where he referred to his superintendent as a “butt-kissing wankster,” the governing board president as “Stoogeman,” and AG Horne and Superintendent Huppenthal as “Neanderthals on Geritol.”

Calling someone trying to outlaw your classes a “wankster” apparently makes one a writer of “hateful rap.”

Acosta claims the program was pedagogically sound, but revealed himself as someone whose disrespect for authority and personal political views were clearly infecting his teaching. He demonstrated the validity of Horne’s and Huppenthal’s perceptions. Everything from his hateful rap song ridiculing public officials and intended for an audience of students, to Che Guevara posters and books written by cop killers on his reading list, books that had nothing to do with the topic he was hired to teach students: Latino literature.

The “cop killer” the state mentions many times refers to Mumia Abu Jamal and his book Live from Death Row. Countless people including Nobel Laureates such as Nelson Mandela to Amnesty International believe Mumia was falsely imprisoned.

We saw a reading list for Latino literature that was short on literature and long on politics. There wasn’t much by Latinos on there, whether you use Dr. Pitti’s narrow definition or some other. But it did include a book by a cop killer, a speech by Che Guevara, and no explanation at all of the literary merit of these works.

Books are scary to the state?

Tom Horne then turned to — his open letter describes the materials that he relied on: Occupied America, the Mexican-American Heritage, 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, Critical Race Theory, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Now Cooper mentions anti-immigrant legislation by the state.

A majority of Arizona’s elected lawmakers agreed with Tom Horne that schools shouldn’t be able to offer ethnic studies programs that were divisive and separatist, like the TUSD MAS program. And while it’s clear the concern about TUSD’s MAS program motivated this legislation, none of the legislators who spoke in favor of the bill said anything discriminatory about Mexican-Americans.

And plaintiffs, by the way, have operated on an assumption that they haven’t proved. They’ve assumed that opponents of illegal immigrants are racist. But, in fact, opposing illegal immigration shows nothing but that one opposes illegal immigration. And the assumption that it’s racist demonstrates that plaintiffs see racism everywhere.

One wonders, given Cooper’s year-after-year attack on DACA students, if she isn’t talking about herself when she says “they’ve assumed that opponents of illegal immigrants are racist.” Cooper is just following orders, doing her job…

The statute that was passed applies to all public school programs, all public school programs. It limits the ability to segregate groups of students from one another while still preserving the ability to teach Arizona’s public school students about both the contributions from different cultures and ethnicities to our civic landscape as well as the difficult episodes in the history of Arizona, the United States, and the world.

What is ironic about this is that it was none other than Tom Horne who helped implement the forced segregation, for 4 hours each day of ELL students into what became known as “Mexican rooms.” Meanwhile, MAS was just one choice that students themselves could choose, and classes were open to, and included, students from all races.

But as opposed as Tom Horne was to the Mexican-American Studies Program itself, there is no evidence that he took action against the program because of a discriminatory animus against the Mexican-American students taking those classes.

Whenever Tom Horne saw Latino protesters, including one time at the State Capitol, he would always say “this is why we need to ban MAS” as if all Latinos in the entire state were MAS students. Horne could not differentiate and equated Latinos to MAS.

[Huppenthal] developed his views about the MAS program before he came to the office of the superintendent. He’d witnessed real problems in the class that he visited. A class that he visited, by the way, on a date chosen by the person who makes his schedule. He didn’t ask to see Curtis Acosta’s class. He didn’t know the ACT test was being administered that day. That was the day that the superintendent, a busy man, could be in Tucson to see a class, and he took the opportunity to do so. And when he did, he saw things that troubled him deeply.

A teacher who honored Che Guevara with a poster on the wall next to true icons of American history, administrators who provided one-sided views of Benjamin Franklin, and students, whose discussion of oppression raised troubling questions in his mind about what was being taught.


(Article continued below)

It was brought up that Benjamin Franklin was a slave-owner and that his solution was to ship all the black people back to Africa. Huppenthal really did not like this.

John Huppenthal isn’t a racist, and he didn’t hand the decision over to Tom Horne. He handed the decision to the top people in his department… He didn’t tell them what result to reach. He didn’t tell them, You have to stop La Raza. No, he handed them a problem. He expected them to evaluate it, to come up with solutions based on their professional judgment. So, as we know, that team decided to employ an auditor to get unbiased advice.

The audit stated that there was no observable evidence of a violation of the law… Troubled by the failure of the Cambium auditors, Hrabluk and Stollar [the “top people in his department” mentioned in the preceding paragraph] looked at the materials themselves. They reached tentative conclusions about whether the MAS program violated the statute.

They found at the conclusion of their review that the materials revealed problems with profoundly disturbing pedagogical implications. That conclusion had no connection to racial animus. It was solely rooted in educators’ legitimate pedagogical concerns. It’s true that ADE didn’t conduct classroom visits… After the review and further investigation, the ADE team
reached a unanimous conclusion that the program was in violation of statute, a conclusion that they presented to Huppenthal.

So Huppenthal did not tell them what conclusion to reach, but he did run on a campaign promise to “Stop La Raza” and when an independent audit found nothing in the MAS classes violated state law which Cooper calls a “failure,” Huppenthal’s “top people,” without ever setting a foot in an MAS classroom, all unanimously found MAS to be in violation of the law…

Now, plaintiffs have presented some other evidence instead of the evidence that they told the Ninth Circuit they’d have. They used their time to offer up a boat-load of red herrings, which is, of course, a standard technique in weak cases.

Boat-load of red herrings… weak cases… now the shit-talking really begins!

There was a lot of talk about Russell Pearce, that he had nothing to do or say about HB22; Laura Leighton, a constituent who passed along the results of her public records requests… We’ve heard a lot about SB1070 as well. That’s a favorite topic. The only connection there is temporal. We spent time on irrelevant issues like whether Elliott Hibbs, the chief operating officer of ADE, ever visited a MAS classroom. Well, that’s a contention that just demonstrates desperate ignorance of ordinary good government.

Yes, when not one person from the ADE visits and MAS classroom, and when an independent audit does and finds nothing wrong and those ADE officials still try to Stop La Raza, that’s not irrelevant!

Now, plaintiffs’ claim that the MAS program was indisputably highly successful… The most important point here though with respect to student achievement is that even credible evidence of student achievement would not exempt an otherwise unlawful program of instruction from A.R.S. 15-112. In other words, some principles matter more than test scores…

When Huppenthal was on the stand he was asked if a program is successful if it raises test scores on standardized tests. He said yes. He was then asked if it led to higher graduation rates, if that is a successful program. He said yes. Then he was asked if that makes MAS, which did both, a successful program. Huppenthal responded that it’s the philosophy that’s important?

But there’s really no evidence — there’s not much evidence to support plaintiffs’ assertions of student achievement. The program operated for 12 years in TUSD to claims of great success that aren’t backed up by actual evidence.

First of all, this is a lie and the evidence was presented in court. Even Cooper knows it is a lie and gives it away in her choice of words. First, she says “there’s really no evidence” and then corrects herself to say “there’s not much evidence.” That’s a huge difference! Once again we go from nonexistence of evidence to the existence of evidence, all in the same sentence!

Huppenthal agreed that claims of student achievement should be examined. He was aware that the Cambium study was required, and in fact the Cambium study was required to look at student achievement. He asked them to determine if statistically valid measures indicated student achievement occurred. He wanted an unbiased examination of whether the MAS program promoted student achievement, but what he got was merely a reprint of information for TUSD passed off as reanalysis.

Cambium did a reanalysis of MAS student achievement data and found that it was real. The thing is that you really don’t need a Ph.D. to see the evidence. Students scored higher on AIMS tests and they graduated at rates up to 97% whereas the national average graduation rate for Latinos is around 50%. Graduating from high school is the Holy Grail, the purpose of high school, and MAS was succeeding! However, Cooper describes all this evidence as “passed off as reanalysis.”

Plaintiffs also rely on Nolan Cabrera, a U of A professor. But we know he is biased. He’s committed his career to the study of Latinos in general and Mexican-Americans in particular. He doesn’t hide the fact that he is a MAS supporter. He published an article called a State-Mandated Epistemology of Ignorance, Arizona’s HB2281 and Mexican-American Raza studies, where he defined white supremacy as the denial that racism exists or an averted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance.

Frankly, you don’t need to know anything else about that article except the title.

Now Cooper begins to talk crap about the professors who were involved. She encourages the judge to judge a book by its cover/title. This recalls a moment when Huppenthal was asked if he knew that Pedagogy of the Oppressed does not teach about oppression, to which Huppenthal responded “well, it’s right there in the title!”

Also, Dr. Cabrera didn’t measure Mexican-American students’ achievement using standard measures of academic achievement that measure increases in cognitive abilities. He used a different standard: Passing AIMS and graduating high school.

Again, passing the state standardized test and graduating high school are the Holy Grails of successful high school programs. To measure cognitive abilities would requiring psychologists, and that would be yet another hurdle that the state would impose on Mexican Americans to prove they are innocent, an obstacle that no other programs have to even consider.

He didn’t look at whether students became better readers, writers, or mathematicians as a result of the program.

This claim is laughable because the AIMS test had three categories; reading, writing, and math.

And plaintiffs’ attack on Dr. Robert Franciosi, a fact witness in this matter, speaks volumes about their case as well. In their desperation and willingness to find racism everywhere and anywhere, they accused him, an ADE statistician they know nothing about, of subscribing to racist beliefs about Mexican-American students being unable to take undertake challenging coursework.

This is when the recollection of Stand and Deliver came to mind; if Latino students are succeeding then they must be cheating or the data must be flawed.

Angela Valenzuela was another expert that plaintiffs relied upon. She brought decades of experience in ethnic studies to this matter, as well as firmly held opinions about its efficacy… Her claims of impact do not withstand scrutiny, nor do her claims that the MAS program employed an accepted pedagogical method.

Now, this is when the shit-talking by Cooper just gets personal and silly.

Now, Dr. Stephen Pitti, a Yale historian, came down from his ivory tower to visit us. He’s also biased. Much of his work centers on the discrimination experience by Mexican-Americans and the United States.

Here we have a Latino Professor at an Ivy League college, Yale, and rather than have some respect for our scholars, says that he had to come down from his ivory tower to visit us. I guess this scrutiny did not apply to the two professors the state tried to use against MAS?

Code words are a convenient way to cry “racist.” You only mean what you say when self-appointed experts whose conclusions are immune to proof or disproof say so… Dr. Pitti can talk about events from the 19th century and claim they are evidence of racial animus in the 21st. He is very comfortable in his ivory tower accusing Arizona legislators and elected officials of racism, but he can’t be bothered to find out what they actually said when they were debating the bill. Dr. Pitti doesn’t have any true experience.. This Court should reject his effort to tell us what defendants meant and rely on the testimony of the defendants themselves.

Here is an excerpt of from Dr. Pitti brilliantly turned the attack on his code words methodology against the state.

Q. You mentioned that characterizations by Arizona politicians frequently attempt to portray Mexican-Americans as politically radical and associate them with ideology such as communism, correct?

A. You didn’t read that back exactly, but I think you got most of it.

Q. Will you agree with me that Che Guevara is a communist?

A. I would — I believe that’s true. He is certainly understood to be — was understood to be a communist.

Q. And you’re aware that a speech of his was used in the Latino Literature 7/8 course, correct?

A. You’ve shown me that today, Counselor.

Q. Would you also agree with me that Paulo Freire is a Marxist?

A. It’s my understanding that Paulo Freire, at least for part of his life, was a Marxist.

Q. So there was a factual basis for believing that the Mexican-American courses at least contained politically radical material, correct?

A. Yes. It is the case that Mexican-American Studies courses seem, from my understanding, to have included the presentation of some communist/Marxist authors for discussion as part of the pedagogy, just as, I might add, American history courses, undoubtedly, if they are college preparatory courses in this country, also include a discussion of materials about other people who were perceived in their own time and may be perceived in our time as radicals.

Those radicals might include Thomas Paine, they might include African-Americans under slavery, they might include socialist immigrants in the early 20th century, communists in the 1930s or the 1940s, students who might be referred to as agitators in the 1960s, antiwar activists across decades. It’s quite common, Counselor, in a curriculum, too, if one is trying to show a complex history to a classroom, and it would be accurate to show a complex history to a classroom that would include just these sorts of materials. It would depend entirely on what the goals of the course were, whether that, in my view, as a non-expert in high school teaching, was the best choice of material or not.

Your focusing on Che Guevara and on Paulo Freire does make my point. Again, that’s an example of the kind of code words in the use of the Mexican-American Studies Program to reiterate a connection between radicalism and Mexican-American Studies, and, by extension, Mexican-American educators and perhaps the broader community at a time in which concerns about Latin American radicals, about un-American immigrants coming into Arizona, were very much, were very critical to public debate surrounding these bills.

So I thank you for raising the issue because it does drive to a central point of what I’ve shown, I think, and demonstrated the importance of code words and the importance of the depiction — the focus in depicting Mexican-American Studies on people like Che Guevara, people like Paulo Freire, and pulling out the fact that they were Marxist or communists to be critical in describing what that program was.

Leslie Cooper’s final statement ends shortly thereafter, but I think ending this article with the words from Dr. Pitti is the best way to get a feel of how the trial went.

Sadly, whenever there is an attack on Latino STUDENTS in Arizona, from DACA to MAS students, you can be sure that Leslie Cooper will be leading the charge in the courts.


Also published on Medium.

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