Tucson Desegregation Case Moves a Step Closer to Resolution

There could be an end in sight for the decades-old desegregation battle involving Arizona's Tucson Unified School District. According to the brief submitted to the court, the plaintiffs have expressed satisfaction with the latest plan submitted by the TUSD aimed at bringing more racial balance to the city's schools.

The Latino plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the district especially singled out the proposal to create a more "culturally relevant" curriculum targeting black and Hispanic students in Tucson. The new curriculum was filed, together with the rest of the Unitary Status Plan, with the federal court this week in the hope that it will move the case closer towards resolution.

It calls for the district to increase racial and ethnic diversity in its schools, promote integration in magnet schools and programs, improve the diversity of administrators and reduce disparities in handling student discipline.

It appears the district, plaintiffs and other parties involved reached a consensus on most of the issues addressed in the plan.

The district's dismantling on the Mexican-American Studies program – which it did in response to a state law that banned such programs from Arizona schools – wasn't directly addressed in the USP, but there are provisions for creating courses that cover similar subject matter. According to Nancy Ramirez, who represents the plaintiffs, introduction of such classes would go a long way towards helping Latino students feel at home in their schools. In addition, proponents think that a broader acknowledgment of the Latino-American culture would help improve academic outcomes of minority students, raise their graduation rates and improve their higher education prospects.

The inclusion of the classes and language describing the new version of the courses was part of a negotiation between the groups involved in creating the plan, she said.

"When you negotiate a deal with different parties, you're trying to balance one party's interest versus another," she said.

There's also a requirement that the district designate or hire a person who will oversee implementation of these courses.

It requires the district to implement the culturally relevant classes by the beginning of the 2013 school year.

Ramirez, who is the Western regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that this version of the plan was more highly regarded by the plaintiffs because it outlines specific goals along with provides for enforcement measures if those goals are not met. In one instance, instead of promising to open gifted classes to more Latino and black students, the plan sets out goals for how many students of each ethnic background should be enrolled in the courses.

11 14, 2012
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