Monday, March 19, 2012

MALDEF Asks Again: Return Mexican-American Studies Classes Immediately

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund isn't letting go.

On Thursday, March 15, MALDEF, representing the Mendoza plaintiffs against the Tucson Unified School District in the ongoing desegregation legal battles, asked the court to reconsider its order from late February that denied the immediate return of the dismantled Mexican-American studies classes.

Here is a copy of MALDEF's March 15 motion.

The motion references a Feb. 2 filing by MALDEF when it first requested the classes be returned. You can read that motion here

In a note from Mendoza representative Sylvia Campoy, below the cut, she explains that in the latest filing MALDEF points out the error in keeping the Mexican-American studies classes from returning:

Yesterday's filing states that the Court's reconsideration is warranted because the MASD order made two manifest errors of law and two manifest errors of fact. It specifies that the Court erroneously concluded: 1- that the promise of future compliance can excuse present illegality and 2- that suspension of Mexican American Studies courses did not deprive any student of equal protection of the law. The errors of fact which are noted refer to the
both the Special Master's and the Court's decisions that the reinstatement of MAS courses would cause undue disruption and would "sidetrack" the Special Master's efforts to develop a Unitary Status Plan by late June/early July.

In his letter to the Court of February 23, 2012 the Special Master reported that TUSD's suspension of the Mexican American Studies courses did constitute a failure to implement the Post Unitary Status Plan and recommended that the Court acknowledge the suspension of the MAS courses as a violation of the orders of the Court. Disappointingly, however, the Special Master did not recommend the reinstatement of the MAS courses but rather asserted that the Unitary Status Plan "will include strategies for moving forward to ensure a quality education for all TUSD students, the majority of whom are Mexican American." He also stated that he would be working to implement "a district-wide ethnically and culturally relevant curriculum." Herein lies the first error-within the context of a reported Court violation by TUSD, some promised actions are provided. However, these promised corrective actions are not historically demonstrated- in good faith- for a reasonable period of time. It is this very logic that resulted in the Ninth Circuit's ruling on appeal which reversed the District Court's finding that TUSD had obtained unitary status upon the adoption of the yet-to-be implemented Post Unitary Status Plan. A record of good faith and compliance simply can not be derived from mere intention or promise, especially when the record does not reflect either good faith or compliance as in this particular case.

One very critical constitutional thread which was woven into the fabric of the 1978 Desegregation Stipulation of Settlement stated that the District may "not engage in any acts or policies which deprive any student equal protection of the law whether by intentional segregation or discrimination based on a student's race or ethnic group." This equal protection thread was also woven into current Court orders. Yet, as is presented in the Mendoza filing, TUSD suspended/eliminated all MAS courses while leaving intact all other ethnic studies classes. Adoption of the Governing Board resolution to suspend the MAS courses essentially singled out Mexican American Studies classes for disparate treatment, leaving in place African American, Native American, and Middle Eastern Studies. Since the MAS classes were suspended, Latino students have been denied a comparable education. Moreover, they have been marginalized through the message that MAS courses are not valued while other ethnic classes are valued. In a school district comprised of 61% Latino students, the harmful impact is widespread. The filing states, "By suspending the Mexican American Studies classes, the District has told its Latino students that their ethnic background no longer is valued and respected."

The notion that reinstating the MAS courses would be disruptive is wrong. (I heard the same justification from a Board Member during a recent media interview.) If the courses are reinstated the students would remain in the same classroom with the same teacher and would receive the same credit for the course. Additionally, the students would be engaged in courses that they actually enrolled in and not those that they were mandated to take after their classes were suspended. A complelling declarative statement by a student who was enrolled in MAS courses at the time they were suspended is part of yesterday's filing. It articulates, via a student's voice, the "disruption" that resulted from suspending her classes and her desire to have the MAS courses reinstated.

The notion that reinstating the MAS courses would somehow "sidetrack" the efforts to prepare the Unitary Status Plan is not sound. The decision on this matter now rests with the Court; not the Special Master. MAS courses are part of the Post Unitary Status Plan (part of a current Court order). The filing states, "...that a remedial plan is in preparation and is anticipated to end discrimination when implemented does not excuse current discrimination or relieve the Court and Special Master appointed to act for the Court from their obligation to order that such discrimination end forthwith."

The filing outlines several cases in our public education history in which the federal court has protected students from state and local policies that create barriers in the implementation of court-mandated desegregation plans when students' 14th Amendment rights are at risk. Reading through the case law citations in the Mendoza Plaintiffs' filing is both uplifting and discouraging. It reminds us that the educational well being of ethnic and racial minority students has been a long fought battle; one which, most unfortunately, is not over. One which, however, has been greatly supported through federal court intervention such as in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1984). It also reminds us, as is stated in a Court order in this case, filed February 6, 2006, that this case is ultimately "aimed at ......securing equal access to equal resources for minority students." Reinstating MAS courses would definitely be a critical step aimed in this direction and unsound legal and factual rational for not doing so must simply be dismissed. It is my hope that the Court will take this critical step based on the facts and legal justification which have been presented. As is stated in the filing, "..the Court cannot let the politically charged campaign against Mexican Americas Studies in TUSD result in discrimination against the District's Latino students."

The anti-Mexican American Studies campaign has been insidious and is derived from a place of discriminatory sentiment. Those leading the campaign within the state, TUSD and within our community have intentionally fueled fear and division within the Tucson community through their consistent repetition of false information about the MAS Department and in so doing have targeted and harmed only one ethnic studies program and only one population of students. To a certain point it has worked; TUSD is splintered; unity within the Tucson community has been fractured and real harm has come to Latino students in the largest local public school system. It is imperative that the campaign not succeed beyond the point already reached and that the Court not accept the District's explanation for its actions in suspending MAS courses since through the Mendoza filings it is now most clear that the effect of that action is to discriminate against TUSD's Latino students on the basis of their national origin. Factual information is powerful- as are the constitutional rights of all TUSD Latino students!

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