A federal judge has ordered the Tucson Unified School District to begin offering culturally relevant courses in the next school year.
The classes, which will focus on the history, experiences and culture of black and Latino communities, are among many provisions in a plan that aims to bring racial balance to TUSD schools.
U.S. District Judge David Bury adopted the plan, known as the Unitary Status Plan, Wednesday. Bury is overseeing the district's decades-long desegregation effort.
The plan focuses on eliminating vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable in the areas of discipline, student assignment, school operations - which includes faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities - and the quality of education being offered to minority students.
The plan was put together by Special Master Willis Hawley, an expert on race relations and academic achievement.
The culturally relevant courses have been one of the more contentious provisions in the plan. TUSD previously had to eliminate Mexican American Studies classes after they were found to be in violation of state law.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne led the charge in finding the courses to be unlawful while he served as the state superintendent of public instruction. Though Horne has left that post, he has continued to lobby against the classes, objecting to the new culturally relevant courses that are part of the unitary plan.
Horne called the approval of the courses "erroneous" Wednesday.
"There is a real possibility that the supporters of the illegal, biased, political and emotionally charged MAS program, that promoted social and political activism against 'white people' and fomented racial resentment, will have used a federal court-sanctioned avenue to resurrect this illegal course of instruction," Horne argued.
Horne said he expects the new courses to be "just as bad" because they are being designed by the same people aligned with the MAS courses. Horne believes the new courses will violate state law because they are designed primarily for students of one race.
He could not say on Wednesday whether he planned to find TUSD in violation of the law again, instead leaving that up to current Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal.
Bury responded to Horne's argument, saying the MAS classes of the past are not at issue in the desegregation case and cited studies showing "strengthening pride in one's race and ethnicity, particularly for disadvantaged groups, is related to positive intergroup attitudes as well as to academic achievement."
Bury went on to say the state is free to enforce its laws as it did in 2011 when it took action against TUSD for the MAS courses, if it believes that the new courses that are put in place violate the law.
In approving the plan, Bury considered arguments from the community, the district, the state and black and Latino plaintiffs associated with the case.
In Wednesday's order, Bury resolved the differences between all those interests and ordered Hawley to compile a revised version of the plan reflecting those decisions, to be submitted back to the court within 10 days.
The district now has four years to operate under the new decree. At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, a determination will be made as to whether the district has eliminated all vestiges of discrimination.
TUSD is reviewing the 40-page order, said Heather Gaines of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy P.C., which is representing the district in the desegregation matter.
Sylvia Campoy, a representative for the Latino plaintiffs, was pleased to see that Bury adopted the plan, saying she hopes TUSD assumes "responsibility and embraces the court-adopted desegregation plan with steadfast enthusiasm. … This will best serve all of the children attending TUSD."
Rubin Salter Jr., attorney for the black plaintiffs, agreed with Campoy, saying the plan is strong, but he is concerned about TUSD's willingness to implement it.
"Based on my 36 years with this, TUSD does not accept responsibility easily," Salter said. "It seems they like it to be forced on them. Maybe with this new board, they will take the initiative and direct their employees to make this thing work."
TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said, "The district has evolved over the past three decades and is committed to doing what's right."
If the plaintiffs are not satisfied with the implementation, they can appeal to the court for intervention.
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Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175.