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TUSD 40-year desegregation order could end

Federal judge recommends court oversight be lifted
TUSD desegregation order
Posted at 7:43 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 00:32:00-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tucson Unified School District could finally get relief from a decades long desegregation case.

Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo announcing Monday that a federal judge recommended the district be released from court supervision.

TUSD has been under federal oversight since the late 1970s to level the playing field for Black and Hispanic students.

The district had sought some relief a few years ago, but the plaintiffs in the case argued that the district still wasn't in full compliance.

Trujillo says the judge ruled that the district now has all the relevant data, technology, and expertise to make program decisions now and in the future.

It's not a done deal yet.

TUSD still has to submit a Post Unitary Status Plan, outlining the transition from federal court supervision to full governance of the TUSD board.

TUSD's full news release:

Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo is proud to share that earlier today, shortly before 12PM, the Tucson Unified School District administration was informed by our legal counsel, that the Honorable David C. Bury, Senior US District Judge for the District of Arizona has recommended that the Tucson Unified School District be released from federal court supervision and that the district be granted full Unitary Status. Judge Bury’s recommendation is contingent upon the district’s completion and submission of a Post Unitary Status Plan (USP), which will serve to assist the district with its transition from federal court supervision to the full and unrestricted governance of the duly elected officials of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board. In his ruling, Judge Bury commended the district in numerous areas as noted by the following commentary:

“The District has the commitment, the relevant data, technology, and the expertise to make program decisions, now and in the future, based on the effectiveness of strategies and programs to integrate its schools and afford equal access to educational opportunities and improve academic achievement for African American and Latino, including English Learner (EL), students. “

“As of now, all USP programs have been designed to meet best practices standards and to be the most effective programs for each USP provision based on research. There has been full implementation of USP strategies, and the District is being operated, accordingly, under the USP, now and into the future. These operations over six years, from 2013 through now, have eliminated the vestiges of segregation to the extent practicable over this period of time.”

“The Court rejects the Plaintiffs’ argument that unitary status cannot be granted until the District attains some predetermined measure of equitable effectiveness, such as increasing faculty diversity at its schools +/-15%, increasing access to ALEs, measured by increasing passing scores on qualifying exams or so that no ALE has minority participation less than 15% . . ., or narrowing the student achievement gap between White and African American and Latino students.”

“The Court agrees that longer operation of the District will lead to improved equity and parity between the races but does not agree that the Court must retain jurisdiction until the USP goals are actually attained. Based on its findings of good faith above for compliance with every provision of the USP, the Court is confident that the District will continue USP operations, especially those that are already

moving the needle in the right direction. There is no reason to believe that the District will walk away now from this massive six-year undertaking. To deny unitary status would not only be contrary to the law, but it would also be counterproductive.”

The Tucson Unified School District remains committed to the principles and practices of the Unitary Status Plan that have established our district as a national leader in culturally responsive and relevant instruction, equity and opportunity for all students. We look forward to memorializing this commitment in our Post Unitary Status Plan. It is our sincere hope that today’s ruling represents the closure of one of the most painful, complex, and difficult chapters in the 154 -year history of our beloved “District One”.

Response from Mendoza Family Representative Sylvia Campoy

This is a brief written reaction/response to the fifty-six-page Court Order of 4/19/21, which grants Unitary Status to TUSD. This is not provided as a position or decision about any future legal action that might be taken by the Mendoza Plaintiffs since time is needed to make such a determination.

We live in an era during which the reality of institutionalized and structural racism is finally being recognized throughout mainstream America, much due to the viewing of murders by police officers, such as the murder of George Floyd. Today’s verdict of "guilty" on all counts for Floyd’s murderer is justice that has long been sought and needed. Without the key video of the incident, I wonder if the verdict would have been the same. It is the video- taken by a young woman- that was offered as prime evidence of the murder. The video served as a monitoring instrument of police conduct and it validates the importance of monitoring tools. The guilty verdict on all counts is a sign that the country is contending with the issue of race and division in a very direct way. Monitoring is a vital part of the Unitary Status Plan (USP) and one which seems to have been gravely ignored.

The recognition that institutionalized racism is intrinsic within school districts, such as TUSD, as it is in police departments has not yet been widely accepted. Racism in policing indicates the disparate impact of African Americans and Latinos in areas such as racial/ethnic profiling, arrests, and bodily harm by the police to people of color. Within TUSD, the most recent data made available indicates disparity for African American and Latino students in academic achievement as demonstrated in test scores, low participation in advanced learning programs such as University High School, the disparity in the administration of discipline to African American students, and other critical areas. (The most recent data is outdated, however, since it is more than two years old.) TUSD’s racism traces back to its history of segregated schools and segregated classrooms based on race and ethnicity. TUSD schools comprised of all Black students and classrooms comprised of all Spanish speakers were rooted in racism. Rooting out racism starts with acknowledgement and ownership of the problem. TUSD has never acknowledged or owned up to its systemic discriminatory practices and rooting racism out of its system has only been done in part, based on the forced actions ordered by the Court.

For the entire life of the TUSD desegregation case, the Mendoza Plaintiffs have desired nothing more than for TUSD to comply with the letter and spirit of its desegregation court decree as it applies to all of TUSD’s various policies, programs, and practices. The Plaintiffs have made a concerted effort to partner with TUSD in achieving compliance but have mostly been shunned by its administration. The reality is that TUSD has knowingly failed to comply with its desegregation court decree for forty-three years, while all along, it has continuously argued its absolute innocence to the Federal District Court. Yesterday, the Federal District Court ordered that TUSD has complied with its court-ordered degree, and several times within its Order, it states that TUSD has complied “to the extent practicable.” At times the repeated phrase sounds like an underserved “pass.” The Court has granted unitary status as it did in 2009, which subsequently resulted in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanding the case to the District Federal Court. The déjà vu is eerie.

Through the Court’s review of TUSD’s compliance, the Plaintiffs have asserted that the Court cannot find unitary status until the District attains the Unitary Status Plan goals to some predeterminate standard: increase Integrated schools and reduce Racially Concentrated schools, increase student and faculty diversity, increase graduation rates and reduce dropout rates; increase access to ALEs, measured by obtaining passing scores on qualifying exams, and improve student achievement for African American and Latino, including EL, students that narrows and eliminates the student achievement gap between these students and White students. The assertions have been reasonable and address both the spirit and letter of the court decree. However, the Court disagrees and states that the Plaintiffs do not recognize the progress that has been made by TUSD, which is not valid. The Mendoza Plaintiffs fully acknowledge that with the Court’s dozens- upon dozens- of spoon-fed directives (court orders), TUSD has been forced to take corrective action in several areas. Any reasonable person has to question whether TUSD's “progress” has been made out of good faith or out of force. Yet, the progress is duly noted in the context of understanding that improvement does not equate to sustained success or compliance.

Relative to student academic achievement, within its Order, the Court states, “The District does not present data or argument that reflects any notable improvement in academic achievement as measured by AZ Merit testing or alternatively by the District…” However, the Special Master has reported to the Court that progress took place in this area. What has not been taken into apparent consideration by the Court is the forced and seemingly temporary efforts taken by TUSD to accomplish a jump in academic achievement scores. Targeted students received tutoring for months before taking the state’s academic achievement test. Scores improved, but the question is one of sustainability. Are these efforts or similar ones woven into policy and practice for future application? No, they are not. Moreover, students who received the targeted tutoring were taken out of their classrooms for the tutoring, and the number of students was not inclusive of all students requiring academic assistance. Therefore, the information reported by the Special Master to the Court was not presented in full context. Compliance with a court order cannot be an action that is short-lived and not sustainable. Moreover, academic achievement performance of African American and Latino students remains significantly low and excuses for this are not only provided by TUSD but are also offered by the Special Master and the Court. There is no excuse that is justifiable for the academic failure of Latino and African American students. Frankly, TUSD, the Special Master, and the Court reference national data in an attempt to correlate African American and Latino TUSD student achievement scores to national data of other school districts. But all three entities fail to recognize schools and school districts that have dealt with the academic achievement of African American and Latino students successfully, inclusive of those from low-socio-economic homes. They also fail to note that TUSD receives approximately $64,000,000 a year to address its desegregation obligations, which sets TUSD apart from most school districts which it is compared to by TUSD, the Special Master and the Court. It is estimated that TUSD has received between one and a half to two billion dollars to address its desegregation efforts.

The Court acknowledges other areas, such as discipline, as showing continued problems of racial disparity. For example, within the area of discipline, African American students remain to be disciplined at much greater rates than their non-minority counterparts. Within the area of advanced learning, the Court also notes problems and states, “to the extent racial imbalances remain in ALE, they will be eliminated to the extent practicable upon completing the pending revisions of the ALE Policy Manual, Appendixes, and correspondingly the Transportation Plan.” A court order to resolve a compliance issues via a manual or plan does not demonstrate compliance.

As important to the Unitary Status Plan as the areas of academic achievement and integration is the area of monitoring. The Plaintiffs very purposefully worked to build a strong monitoring component into the USP with the expectation that external and independent monitoring would be an on-going process that would serve to verify or dispute the defendant’s data and reports. For more than two years the Special Master and his team have not been in any TUSD schools or departments to verify data and reports submitted by TUSD. Data upon which the Court has reached its decision in its most recent Order are based on data that is about two years old. Any reasonable person must question how stale data can be used to determine the status of a school district’s compliance with a desegregation court order.'