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Tucson Opinion: With desegregation case over, TUSD can begin to move on
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Tucson Opinion: With desegregation case over, TUSD can begin to move on

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

After almost 44 years, Federal Judge David C. Bury states that the Tucson Unified School District has “eliminated vestiges of segregation to the extent practicable.”

In 1974, TUSD was rightfully sued for a having a systemic segregated school structure and “intentionally and knowingly” discriminating against students based on race and ethnicity.

Under this federal desegregation court order, decades of work have gone into resolving this malpractice. In 2010, the district earned “unitary status,” but the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals quickly reversed that decision.

The Court appointed Dr. Bill Hawley to serve as a “Special Master” to oversee the development of a USP, or Unitary Status Plan. An academic expert in the area of desegregation in American public schools, Dr. Hawley has stated that this plan is the most comprehensive and ambitious USP he’s ever seen.

In 2018, TUSD was granted partial unitary status, and after finalizing documents are submitted, TUSD will be out from under supervision by the federal courts, and granted complete unitary status in May 2021.

Over the last 19 years as a TUSD board member, one of the most contentious and controversial issues has been this court case and court oversight. The USP has forced TUSD to make fundamental changes to procedures and processes that would likely not have occurred without the court order.

I would classify most of this work as needed improvements that have positively impacted our students. Unfortunately, there have also been significant drawbacks, mostly concerning the incredible cost for legal fees.

The district has had to maintain a much larger administrative budget to comply with this order, and directors and principals have had to spend great amounts of time writing and submitting reports to the court, instead of focusing on the everyday duties of our children’s education.

The TUSD Governing Board and nine superintendents (especially over the last eight years) could not make significant changes to curriculum, staffing, job descriptions or grade configurations without court approval, a process that requires so much time and too many tax payer dollars.

When this court case began, Mexican American and African American children were minorities in TUSD. Today, our students in TUSD are now predominantly children of color.

Our educational landscape has changed dramatically over the last four decades. School choice, open enrollment, growing suburban districts, charter schools and vouchers have resulted in “white flight” from many urban core school districts.

Throughout these demographic shifts, TUSD stood alone, baring the responsibility to unify and integrate Arizona’s second largest public school district. Charters, neighboring districts and private schools shared none of this responsibility.

In closing, I am proud of this work and what we have accomplished working so closely with the plaintiff representatives, Dr. Hawley and the court. Unitary status is great news for our community!

The five duly elected school board members will now have the responsibility and privilege of making the decisions that you elected us to make. And as this governing body moves forward, it is our community’s responsibility to elect members who will respect, value and fight for equity and racial harmony.

TUSD will no longer be beholden to a court, but rather to our community, and I think that’s a great step in the right direction.

Adelita Grijalva has been a member of the TUSD School Board for 19 years. She is also a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

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