TUSD cultural issue thrown into confusion

Board supports classes, but admin has reservations
2012-12-13T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:46:43Z TUSD cultural issue thrown into confusionAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 13, 2012 12:00 am  • 

An attempt by the TUSD Governing Board to support the creation of new culturally relevant courses ended Tuesday night in confusion and with the district administration still objecting to those types of classes.

The offering of the courses is a provision in the district's proposed Unitary Status Plan, which aims to bring racial balance to its schools. TUSD has been operating under a desegregation court order for the last three decades.

The new plan, which was written by a desegregation expert, requires that TUSD offer classes that reflect the history, experiences and culture of the African-American and Mexican-American communities.

The courses appear to be similar to the now-defunct Mexican American Studies courses, which were eliminated earlier this year after they were found to be in violation of state law.

The Tucson Unified School District stood to lose millions in state funding had it continued to offer the courses.

A draft of the Unitary Status Plan was filed in November, at which time TUSD objected to that requirement, saying it is unprecedented in a desegregation case to mandate specific courses or curriculum.

In its objection, the administration noted it is in the process of revising its social studies curriculum to include multicultural perspectives.

On Tuesday, the board was tasked with approving the unitary plan and the objections raised by the administration or rejecting all or portions of the plan.

The plan, as approved by the board, is to go before the federal judge who oversees the desegregation case Friday.

On Tuesday night, board member Mark Stegeman made a motion to approve the plan with all of the administration's objections, plus three additional objections.

The three additional objections centered on timelines for hiring district personnel, the creation of a task force and another objection by Stegeman to the culturally relevant courses.

Specifically, Stegeman did not support the plan's attempt to create the courses for core credits.

Board member Adelita Grijalva agreed to vote on the unitary plan only if Stegeman pulled out his objection to the courses so that could be voted on separately. Stegeman agreed, and the board voted 5-0 in support of the unitary plan.

The board then voted on the separate issue of the courses, ultimately rejecting Stegeman's objection to the curriculum. However, the motion did not include the administration's objection, allowing it to move ahead and be reviewed by the federal court on Friday.

That means despite the fact that the majority of the board supports the courses, the plan will be filed in federal court with the district administration's objection to them still included.

Grijalva said on Wednesday that she believed the vote would have killed all objections on the table when it came to the courses, and was surprised that was not the case.

"There was a lot of confusion as to what was being voted on, and people walked out feeling like the district was no longer opposing Mexican American Studies," she said. "I can understand that confusion and it concerns me a lot. It's all word play."

Grijalva has asked that the matter be brought before the board one more time on Jan. 8 for a new vote; two new board members will be seated then.

Grijalva believes that what was intended by the Tuesday vote will be accomplished in a new vote, because the new board members have expressed support for the culturally relevant courses.

But by then the plan and the administration's objection to the courses will already have gone before the federal judge reviewing the case.

On StarNet: Find more education and TUSD news at azstarnet.com/ news/local/education

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

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