Arizona not allowed to interfere with court-ordered plan to develop culturally relevant curriculum designed to reflect the history, experiences and culture of the Mexican American community at TUSD schools

LOS ANGELES, CA - Earlier this week, in two orders, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed steps taken to move toward favorable resolution of the historic desegregation case, Mendoza v. Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). Under the court-adopted plan to resolve the 40-year old case, TUSD must, among other things, implement culturally relevant courses at its schools. In two separate appeals, the Court denied the state of Arizona's attempt to intervene in the case to challenge the implementation of the ethnic studies curriculum, and it denied TUSD's attempt to circumvent District Court orders that expedite steps to eliminate segregation within the District. The case was filed by MALDEF in 1974 in federal district court in Tucson.

"Instead of focusing on equal educational opportunity in Tucson, the state of Arizona has for too long extended its ongoing hostility toward steps, like ethnic studies curricula, that promote minority student achievement while fostering intergroup understanding and intellectual honesty," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, who argued against the Arizona appeal in the Ninth Circuit. "We look forward to working toward educational equity in TUSD without further state obstructionism."

On July 19, 2011, MALDEF successfully persuaded the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the District Court's decision that TUSD had achieved "unitary status" in the longstanding desegregation lawsuit. The Ninth Circuit overruled the lower court conclusion that judicial oversight should end. As a result of that successful appeal, early last year, District Court Judge David C. Bury adopted a new Unitary Status Plan ("USP"), developed by the parties and Special Master, designed to eliminate segregation and improve educational outcomes for Latino and African American students in TUSD. The USP contains provisions that call for culturally relevant curriculum designed to reflect the history, experiences and culture of the Mexican American community, as one strategy to improve student achievement

In 2012, the State of Arizona attempted to intervene in the desegregation case, arguing that any ethnic studies courses ordered in the case would violate its notorious 2010 anti-ethnic studies law. After Judge Bury denied Arizona's request, Arizona twice unsuccessfully requested that the Court reconsider its decision. In denying the State of Arizona's third attempt to intervene, Judge Bury upheld the section of the USP that calls for culturally relevant curriculum as one 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." Arizona appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit, and this week was rejected once again.

In addition to the state's appeal on intervention, TUSD appealed Judge Bury's procedural orders, asserting that the Judge had not provided the District sufficient opportunity to object to the Special Master's reports and recommendations on desegregation plans, in claimed violation of the District's rights. It also alleged that Judge Bury abandoned his role by "rubber stamping" the Special Master's recommendations. The Ninth Circuit also rejected that appeal and stated, "[w]e commend the district court for the attention it is giving to this time-consuming and challenging case, and we encourage the parties to work together to expeditiously implement the Unitary Status Plan."

"It was unfortunate that the school district diverted time and resources that should have been devoted to addressing the integration and achievement goals of the USP to wrangles over procedure and moves to undercut Judge Bury's effort to move implementation of the USP forward as expeditiously as possible," stated Lois Thompson, co-counsel with MALDEF and Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, who argued against the District's appeal in the Ninth Circuit."

Juan Rodriguez, staff attorney with MALDEF, said, "this decision sends the message that TUSD must genuinely collaborate with the Plaintiffs and Special Master to implement plans under the USP to eliminate vestiges of past race discrimination."

MALDEF, together with Ms. Thompson, won a variety of important outcomes for TUSD's Latino students this year, including substantial revisions to TUSD's desegregation budget to focus on USP desegregation obligations. MALDEF looks forward to working with all relevant parties to implement the plan Judge Bury ordered into action almost two years ago.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" 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:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund