TUSD desegregation order may end
Arizona Daily Star
Aug. 23, 2007

(back to News 2007)


District has 30 days to show U.S. judge it has accomplished goals of '78 ruling


By Josh Brodesky and Eric Swedlund 

A federal judge will release TUSD from its decades-old desegregation order (http://www.azstarnet.com/pdf/tusdorder.pdf), provided the city's largest school district can prove it has followed the order and has a plan to continue giving all students equal opportunities.

The order by U.S. District Judge David C. Bury has the potential to drastically change the makeup and landscape of the schools in the Tucson Unified School District, which serves roughly 57,000 students.
While it didn't remove the desegregation order that has defined student placement for 29 years, Bury's ruling has the potential to simultaneously send more students back to their home schools while also giving greater choice to students who want to attend schools outside their neighborhoods.
"The court finds that all students must be allowed to take full advantage of school choice," Bury wrote.
The 26-page ruling gives TUSD 30 days to file a comprehensive report showing that a student's race and a school's level of ethnic diversity are not factors in student placement. As such, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling that rejects race-based school assignments, Bury deemed the district's student placement policy unconstitutional because it factors how student transfers would affect the ethnic makeup of schools.
District officials also have 11 days to meet with community stakeholders to determine where to go from here.
Under the desegregation policy, which wasn't always followed, students could transfer to schools if the moves improved the ethnic balances of the schools they were going to while not changing the ethnic balance of their home schools; a policy that was particularly limiting to minority students, the majority of TUSD's students.
For example, Bury's order notes that only three TUSD middle schools are more than 50 percent Anglo, meaning none of its other middle schools were available to minority students.
TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer and Desegregation Administrator Richard Gastellum did not return phone calls Wednesday and district spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander said no district officials would comment on the decision.
"We're meeting with our attorney Friday to analyze the document and we don't really feel comfortable speaking about it until we've had a complete analysis," she said.
Rubin Salter, attorney for the black families in the case, said he thought Bury had placed "a great task" on TUSD and he was skeptical the district would meet the deadline, much less be able to prove it has complied with the desegregation order.
"I don't hail this as a victory for the defendants," he said.
TUSD, he said, has yet to prove it has complied with the desegregation order beyond the initial five-year period after the order was implemented at the start of the 1978-79 school year, following a class-action lawsuit. He cited as an example the recent revelation that roughly 1,300 students were allowed to enroll in the wrong schools despite the desegregation order.
At the very least, Bury's order puts the legal wheels in motion to close the desegregation case and for TUSD to enter what's called unitary status.
Bury wrote that he expects TUSD's comprehensive report to show there are no vestiges of segregation in student placement.
But, he wrote, "if failures occurred, compiling the record will identify them so that the court may determine whether any further remedial measures are necessary."
There also is the question of money. Under the desegregation order, TUSD has received more than $800 million in public funds and does not want to lose those revenue streams.
When TUSD sought unitary status two years ago, it also asked to maintain the level of funding it receives from the state for various educational programs. If the funding is cut, TUSD would like the courts to be able to reopen the case and name the state as a defendant.
Joel Ireland, TUSD governing board president, said the 30-day deadline to craft a plan is difficult, but TUSD intends to present as much of a plan as it can.
"We want to get community input and input from all the stakeholders to flesh out the plan," he said. "I think we'll have a preliminary plan or an outline by the court's deadline, but the details will come after community input."
The main components of the plan will outline student attendance, including where kids will go to school and how they'll be eligible to move around the district by their choice.
Operating under the desegregation order has been hugely problematic for TUSD, he said.
"Everybody's intent back in '78 was to provide educational opportunities for minority children, but the order has turned out to prevent that very thing," Ireland said. "It's prevented students from going to magnet programs and excellent programs in their own neighborhoods."
But governing board member Judy Burns said the removal of the order would only open the door for a host of new problems.
"Some of our magnet programs were designed specifically to get an ethnic balance," she said. "We cannot just dismantle them, and we cannot just put the neighborhood kids back into the schools they were going to in 1978 without a lot of disruption and virtually no magnet spots available."
She painted a picture of shifting demographics and the possibility of school flight or, conversely, an influx of students.
"Minority students haven't had the choices white students have had. I was hoping that by getting out from under that order we could create more openings for minority students in our magnet programs. I'm still hoping for that, but if we can't use race as a factor I don't know how that would work," she said.
She wants the board to have a public vote on the response.
Of course, that's assuming the district is able to prove it has reached unitary status.
"I think the judge left that open," Salter said.
While he hadn't read Bury's order, Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said he wasn't surprised by it. He noted TUSD is one of only two districts in the state still under a desegregation order.
"My own view is treat people as individuals, and don't treat them based on race for any purpose at all," he said.
U.S. Rep. Raϊl Grijalva, a former TUSD school board member and a current member of the House Education Committee, said regardless of the outcome, TUSD has plenty of work to do.
"Those federal orders on desegregation were intended to equalize and provide equal opportunity to students. So regardless, that still is the mandate," he said. "Any school district, including TUSD, still has the responsibility under the law to provide a detailed strategy on how they're going to continue to strive toward that."
Read in-depth coverage of Southern Arizona education issues at azstarnet.com/education.
● Daily Star reporter Daniel Scarpinato contributed to this story. ● Contact reporters: Josh Brodesky at 807-7789 or at jbrodesky@azstarnet.com; Eric Swedlund at 573-4115 or at eswedlund@azstarnet.com.