At TUSD's first public forum on its new proposed desegregation plan, most speakers used the opportunity to lobby for the return of Mexican American studies.
The desegregation plan spells out improvements the Tucson Unified School District must make in areas ranging from the hiring and retention of minority employees to recruiting more minority students into advanced academic programs.
The plan, known as a unitary status plan, touches upon - without specifically naming - the controversial issue of Mexican American studies, yet that is the topic most speakers focused on at Monday night's hearing.
The plan requires the district to help improve the achievement of black and Hispanic students by creating "socially and culturally relevant curriculum," including courses that center on the experiences of the black and Latino communities.
TUSD's original Mexican American Studies program was dismantled in January after a state law banned the classes.
Special Master Willis Hawley attended the hearing, along with attorneys and officials representing the district, the Justice Department, and the original black and Hispanic plaintiffs whose suit led to the district being placed under a federal court desegregation order more than 30 years ago.
Hawley, a University of Maryland professor emeritus who is an expert in race relations and academic achievement, was brought on by the federal court at the beginning of this year to create a new plan after it was determined that TUSD did not act in good-faith compliance while it was under the original desegregation decree, and that court oversight would resume.
All public comments will be forwarded to Hawley, who will then submit his final plan to the court by Dec. 10. The final plan must be approved by the court.
Two more public forums will be held this week.
Among those who attended the first forum, some supported the overall plan while others questioned how the district has spent its desegregation money through the years and what they called TUSD's inability to resolve desegregation.
A few speakers also supported the district's African American Studies program.
However, many people who attended the forum at Tucson High Magnet School viewed the desegregation plan as an opportunity to restore the popular but controversial Mexican American Studies classes.
Some people criticized the vagueness of the desegregation plan, saying it should specifically address Mexican American Studies instead of referring to new classes as part of a culturally relevant curriculum.
"Look at what Mexican American Studies produced," said Richard M. Martinez, who was there to represent plaintiffs who sued the state when it banned the classes earlier this year. "It's unprecedented. It is a model and it needs to be spelled out here very specifically."
The lack of specificity for Mexican American Studies and provisions in the plan makes it a "flawed document," Martinez said.
Incoming TUSD board member Cam Juarez also spoke in favor of the return of Mexican American Studies. "We're talking about having some components in the plan that would have some teeth," he said, referring not only to Mexican American Studies but to programs for English language learners. Juarez referred to Tucson as the birthplace of bilingual education.
A representative from U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva's office read a comment prepared by the congressman, who supported the classes and cited a recent study that showed a link between them and improved student achievement. "These successes, which would have been impossible without the MAS curriculum, can and should be repeated," he said.
Other speakers commented on what they called shortcomings of the state's English-language-learner requirements, which call for the students to learn English for four hours each day.
Michelle Gutierrez, a senior at Cholla High Magnet School, said many of her friends feel targeted because they are English language learners.
"They're not being taught what the others are taught," Gutierrez, 18, said. English language classes should be integrated into the regular school curriculum. "It isn't right. They shouldn't be pulling people out" of class, she said.
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IF YOU GO
Another chance for people to comment on TUSD's desegregation plan will take place tonight, 6 to 8:30, at El Pueblo Regional Center, 101 W. Irvington Road.
The final public meeting will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Palo Verde High School, 1302 S. Avenida Vega.
For more information on the desegregation plan, see tucsonusp.com
Contact reporter Jamar Younger at email@example.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger