TUCSON, AZ – A federal court of appeals Monday dismissed a request by Tucson education officials to end a decades-long desegregation case because the district failed to make that request in a lower court.

The order from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit grants a request by MALDEF and the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP to block efforts by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to be released from a court-supervised desegregation plan first imposed on the district in the 1970s.

 “The district has consistently tried to short circuit its way to an end of court supervision, and this improper appeal is just the latest example,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “TUSD should focus on achieving equity for all students in the classroom, and cease the shenanigans in the courtroom.”

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal and Defense Fund) has represented Latino plaintiffs in the desegregation case since it was first filed in 1974. Later MALDEF’s case was combined with a lawsuit filed on behalf of African American students who similarly claimed 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 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 second desegregation plan in 2013 known as the Unitary Status Plan (USP). Tucson Unified has argued that it has complied with the plan.

In September 2018, U.S. District Court Judge David Bury ruled that the district had only partially complied with the USP desegregation plan.  TUSD appealed Bury’s 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.

In January of this year, MALDEF and Proskauer Rose LLP, asked the Ninth Circuit to dismiss TUSD’s appeal by arguing that 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, attorneys argued, the Ninth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to rule on the case.

On Monday, a three-judge panel agreed that the Ninth Circuit lacked jurisdiction and granted MALDEF and Proskauer Rose LLP’s request to dismiss TUSD’s appeal.  The district must now return to the district court and prove that it is in full compliance with the 2013 desegregation plan.

“It is unfortunate that the district wasted time and resources pursuing a litigious and misguided path toward resolution of this case rather than to devote those resources to furthering strategies to improve the educational outcomes of its Latinx and African American students,” said Juan Rodriguez, MALDEF staff attorney.

Additionally, MALDEF filed a separate notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit in October 2018 challenging Bury’s order granting the district “partial unitary status”, on the grounds that TUSD has failed to act in good faith and has not eliminated the vestiges of past racial discrimination to the extent practicable. That appeal is not part of the request granted on Monday and will still proceed.

Read the dismissal order HERE