Tucson Latino Students Win 40 Year Court Battle

Student protesterPRESS RELEASE

Court Orders Tucson School District To Reinstate Culturally Relevant Curriculum That Reflects The History, Culture and Experiences of Mexican Americans

TUCSON, AZ – Yesterday Judge David C. Bury ruled in favor of Latino plaintiffs in the longstanding desegregation lawsuit against the Tucson Unified School District (“TUSD”), filed by MALDEF in 1974 in federal district court in Tucson, Arizona. In his order, Judge Bury adopted the Unitary Status Plan (“USP”), designed to eliminate segregation and improve educational outcomes for Latino students in TUSD, that was jointly filed last year by TUSD, the Fisher Plaintiffs on behalf of African American students, the United States Department of Justice, MALDEF on behalf of the Mendoza plaintiffs who are Latino students, and the Court-appointed Special Master, Dr. Willis D. Hawley.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel stated, “Once fully implemented, today’s order promises to dramatically improve educational opportunities for Latino students in Tucson. The plan addresses critical issues, such as the education of English learners, discriminatory disparities in access to critical programs, and the restoration of culturally relevant courses to the curriculum. When these issues are addressed, the educational experience of all students will be richer and more equitable.”

In his ruling, Judge Bury found that TUSD has not eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination identified in a 1978 court-approved settlement of the case and that it had not acted in good faith because over the years “the District had not addressed ongoing segregation and discrimination in TUSD, both physical segregation and unequal academic opportunities for Black and Hispanic minority students.” Significantly, Judge Bury upheld the section of the USP that calls for culturally relevant curriculum designed to reflect the history, experiences and culture of the Mexican American community as a strategy to improve student achievement and one that was agreed to by the parties as a “meritorious strategy, fully supported by the experts and the Special Master, to improve the academic performance of minority students.”

Nancy Ramirez, Western Regional Counsel and lead attorney stated, “Today’s ruling is the culmination of years of vigilance by the Latino and local communities in Tucson demanding accountability and transparency by the Tucson Unified School District that would ultimately lead to equal opportunities for Latino students. We look forward to continuing to work on the implementation of this comprehensive and ambitious plan that offers much promise for improving educational outcomes for all students in TUSD”.

The Court’s order also denies the State of Arizona’s attempt to intervene in the case to litigate the issue of Mexican American Studies. The Court concluded that its ruling does not override a 2010 Arizona law targeting ethnic studies for elimination “and even if it did – the Supreme Court has held that state laws cannot be allowed to impede a desegregation order.” The Court believes that Arizona’s role in the case may be concluding and has requested that Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne demonstrate why the state’s participation in the case should not be ended now.

Other important outcomes of Judge Bury’s order include the following: The Court agreed with MALDEF that the USP must include a district-wide professional development plan for all educators working with English Language Learners. Overruling the District’s objection the Court stated, “Given the large amount of ELL students in TUSD and their substandard academic achievement, there is a clear need for teachers to learn how to better teach ELL students.” The Court also agreed with MALDEF that annual goals should be set for GATE programs and Advanced Academic Courses to “steadily increase the number and percentage of African American and Latino students, including ELL and exceptional (special education students).” And it agreed with MALDEF’s concern that minority students are overrepresented in special education classes and requested the Special Master to include language to address this concern.

The Special Master will oversee the District’s revisions to the USP incorporating Judge Bury’s order, which will be filed with the Court on February 19, 2013.

Lois Thompson of Proskauer Rose LLP, serving as pro bono counsel stated, “The Court-adopted plan, if implemented effectively and in good faith, should finally improve the educational environment and outcomes for the District’s Latino students and lead to a day when the District can be released from Court supervision.”

A copy of the order is available at
http://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/MENDOZA_020613_Order.pdf 

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Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.

[Photo by mediafreedominternational.org]

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