TUCSON, AZ – A federal court of appeals should dismiss a request by Tucson education officials to end a decades-long desegregation case because the district failed to make that request in the lower court, according to a motion filed today by Latino students.
The court document, filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, who are representing Latino students in the case, argues that the Tucson Unified School District is improperly seeking to have the appellate court end the longstanding case. As a result, Latino students never had an opportunity to demonstrate that myriad issues remain in schools, including improvement of students’ academic achievement.
“The school district is seeking an improper shortcut to cease compliance with the mandates designed to ensure that it improves the education provided to Latino and African American students,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The ploy will not succeed; the district must do the hard work necessary to achieve relief from ongoing court supervision.”
MALDEF has represented Latino plaintiffs in the desegregation case since it was first filed in 1974 and later combined with a lawsuit filed on behalf of African American students who similarly claimed that there was a longstanding pattern of racial segregation in Tucson Unified school operations and curriculum. In 1978, a court agreed that there was intentional discrimination against Latino and African American students and ordered schools desegregated under court supervision.
The plaintiffs have long argued that TUSD has in the intervening decades resisted desegregation efforts and that the district failed to comply with mandates issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011, when it ordered TUSD to remain under court supervision. The district court approved a desegregation plan in 2013. Tucson Unified has argued that it has complied with the plan.
In a September 2018 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge David Bury ruled that Tucson Unified had only partially complied with the desegregation plan, known as the Unitary Status Plan (USP). TUSD appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that Bury “refused” to declare that the district had met all of the plan’s mandates and that it should be released from court oversight.
The motion filed today by MALDEF and Proskauer Rose says Judge Bury could not have “refused” to declare TUSD in full compliance with the plan because the school district never made such a request. Therefore, the Ninth Circuit lacks jurisdiction to rule on the case.
“The district’s appeal is an attempt to get around first proving to the lower court, and asking it to agree, that the district has met the plan’s requirements to improve Latino and African American students’ educational opportunities and outcomes,” said MALDEF staff attorney Juan Rodriguez.
In his September ruling, Judge Bury said that TUSD has complied with many of the desegregation plan’s requirements, but it has fallen short in several areas. He noted that the district still has not sufficiently diversified its staff at individual schools, and that Tucson Unified disproportionately places first-year teachers at schools with a predominantly Latino enrollment. Bury also cited enrollment and performance gaps in advanced classes, disciplinary practices that lead to disproportionate suspensions of African American students, insufficient training of teachers to use technology in classrooms, and failure to engage Latino parents to participate at individual schools as further evidence that TUSD has not met all of the desegregation plan’s requirements.
MALDEF filed a notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit last October challenging Bury’s order granting what is known as partial unitary status, on the grounds that the district has failed to act in good faith and has not eliminated the vestiges of past racial discrimination. That appeal is independent of the motion filed today.
Federal courts, backed by the Ninth Circuit decision, have ruled that the district must show a good-faith commitment to carry out all of the desegregation remedies required by the USP before it can be released from court supervision.
Read the motion to dismiss the district’s appeal here.