A federal judge's decision to end court oversight of TUSD's decades-long effort to bring its schools in to racial balance was overturned Tuesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The scathing opinion orders that court supervision of Tucson's largest school district be reinstated, and called the decision to terminate the desegregation order "clearly erroneous."

The ruling is a victory for black and Hispanic plaintiffs and the U.S. Department of Justice, which argued that a U.S. District Court judge erred in granting TUSD so-called "unitary status" despite finding that it had failed to act in good-faith compliance with the desegregation decree.

"The district court's extensive findings as to the school district's lack of good faith show that the time has not yet come to pass for Tucson," Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote in the opinion.

In justifying its decision, the 9th Circuit Court pointed to Supreme Court precedent, which has underscored that good-faith compliance is central to the decision to declare a school district unitary and withdraw supervision.

Tucson Unified School District contends it acted in good faith.

Under the old desegregation order, TUSD was required to get permission from the court to make any major changes, said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone.

The implications of the new ruling for TUSD are not yet clear.

The district now has three options, which will be presented to its Governing Board Tuesday during executive session:

• Petition the Supreme Court for an appeal - which the court can grant or refuse at its own discretion

• Request a rehearing at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in front of the same three judges or in front of 11 judges

• Let the ruling stand and allow the U.S. District Court to determine the amount of supervision and control needed.

Part of the District Court's justification for lifting the order despite the lack of good-faith compliance was to return control to local authorities. It was decided that TUSD could establish its good-faith commitment by adopting a plan that ensured transparency and accountability to the public regarding the future operation of the school district.

The plan was to be monitored by the community for compliance. However, since the adoption of the plan more than two years ago, there have been numerous delays in carrying it out - the delays have been attributed to changes in leadership.

"There is no authority for the proposition that a failure to demonstrate past good faith can be cured, and federal jurisdiction can be terminated, if a plan that merely promises future improvements is adopted," the 9th Circuit Court opinion stated. "Decades of Supreme Court precedent dictate that, where good faith lacks and the effects of de jure segregation linger, public monitoring and political accountability do not suffice."

TUSD is in need of strict oversight, said Sylvia Campoy, one of the plaintiffs' representatives on an independent citizen board that monitored the desegregation effort.

"I'm pleased but saddened because it's based on noncompliance, which has hurt hundreds of thousands of kids over many years," Campoy said.

TUSD Governing Board President Mark Stegeman agreed that the bottom line is the impact on students.

"The board has not yet discussed the new ruling, but I am sure everyone agrees that TUSD must make a much deeper and sustained commitment to narrow its achievement gaps, regardless of the district's legal status."

On StarNet: View the 23-page ruling online at azstarnet.com/pdf

Did you know

In 1974, black and Latino students sued TUSD, alleging intentional segregation and unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. For some 30 years after the parties settled in 1978, TUSD operated subject to a federally enforced desegregation order.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.