Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will MAS Return to TUSD?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 11:03 PM

As reported late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury issued a decision in the almost 40-year-old desegregation lawsuit filed on behalf of Mexican-American and African-American students in the Tucson Unified School District.

According to a press release sent by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), while the court denied state Attorney General Tom Horne's objections to any return of Mexican-American studies classes (MAS) it also "believes that Arizona’s role in the case may be concluding and has requested that Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne demonstrate why the state’s participation in the case should not be ended now."

There are other issues in Bury's decision the press release pointed out:

The Court agreed with MALDEF that the USP must include a district-wide professional development plan for all educators working with English Language Learners. Overruling the District’s objection the Court stated, "Given the large amount of ELL students in TUSD and their substandard academic achievement, there is a clear need for teachers to learn how to better teach ELL students." The Court also agreed with MALDEF that annual goals should be set for GATE programs and Advanced Academic Courses to "steadily increase the number and percentage of African American and Latino students, including ELL and exceptional (special education students)." And it agreed with MALDEF's concern that minority students are overrepresented in special education classes and requested the Special Master to include language to address this concern.

However, how Bury addresses MAS isn't necessarily the hand-slap most MAS supporters hoped for, and it isn't exactly a specific outline for a path to return those classes. While he addresses state Attorney General Tom Horne's objections to MAS being included in the deseg plan, Bury made it clear that what is happening now isn't a return of the MAS classes, but the development of new classes. His decision is also clear that those classes and curriculum would follow the state's anti-MAS law.

What is obvious is that classes that reflect the Mexican-American and African-American experience in core social studies and English classes can start being developed immediately. Court-appointed special master Willis Hawley, who oversaw the development of the deseg plan will now work with TUSD to implement the plan and Bury's order. This has to be filed with the court on Feb. 19.

Go here to read Bury's ruling.

This is what Bury says will take place by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year: "The District shall develop and implement culturally relevant courses of instruction designed to reflect the history, experiences, and culture of African American and Mexican American communities. Such courses of instruction for core English and Social Studies credit shall be developed and offered at all feasible grade levels in all high schools across the District, subject to the District’s minimum enrollment guidelines. All courses shall be developed using the District’s curricular review process and shall meet District and state standards for academic rigor. The core curriculum described in this section shall be offered commencing in the fall term of the 2013-2014 school year."

"The District shall pilot the expansion of courses designed to reflect the history, experiences, and culture of African American and Mexican American communities to sixth through eighth graders in the 2014-2015 school year, and shall explore similar expansions throughout the K-12 curriculum in the 2015-2016 school year."

Bury notes when the new TUSD board came on in January and voted with Adelita Grijalva to remove the district's objection to these classes being core classes meaning "passing the course will satisfy requirements for graduation. It does not mean that all students must take the course; culturally relevant courses will remain optional.”

Bury states Horne's objection isn't substantive, because while there's this anti-Mexican-American studies law out there, the state won't know if these newly developed classes will: "1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government; 2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people; 3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and 4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

Although, it could and should be argued that the classes that existed beforehand never violated the law to begin with, Horne argued supporters will use the final plan as a federal court-sanctioned avenue to bring the classes back. Well, yeah, since supporters of the classes had argued all along to the school board that that was the avenue it had to begin with — use the existing plan that included the classes as a way to protect the district from the state's threat to withdraw $10 million in funding.

Bury also noted Hawley's conclusions in support of MAS as a path to increase student achievement using the Cambium Report commissioned by state Superintendent John Huppenthal and the Cabrera study commissioned by Hawley. While challenged, he said they provide some evidence supporting the proposed culturally relevant courses.

From Bury:

The Court believes that including culturally relevant courses in the USP affords the parties an opportunity to continue to study the affects of these types of classes on student achievement. The Court urges the parties, the District, including the TUSD Governing Board, to work together to identify study criteria that will make the next round of reports more meaningful and more determinative. Based on the evidence before it at this time, the Court finds that the evidence which does exist supports including culturally relevant courses in the USP as one way to improve student achievement.

Bury wrote in his decision that he will not address the constitutionality of the state's anti-Mexican-American studies courses and that remains before U.S. District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima (Acosta et al. v. Huppenthal).

This is what needs to happen next, he states:

The State, like the Plaintiffs, must set aside what has occurred in TUSD in the past and assume, as does this Court, that the USP will be implemented in good faith by the District.The State is free to monitor the development of the culturally relevant courses and their implementation. The State is free to enforce its laws as it did in 2011 when it took action against TUSD for the MAS courses, if it believes any culturally relevant courses developed and implemented in TUSD violate state law.

Right now, happening in the background, former MAS teachers are working on new curriculum for these core classes — this before Bury's decision was released. There are also two new school board members, which creates a new board majority that have all said publicly they supported the dismantled MAS program and support the return of MAS classes to TUSD — Adelita Grijalva joined by newly elected board members Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster.

At the Jan. 8 TUSD board meeting, Grijalva brought back a motion to remove the district's objection to the core classes that was before Bury. That vote occurred because of this new majority. What this new majority does next is what may determine the future of MAS classes.

And of course, as Bury reminded us, there's Tashima. Oh, yeah, we're still waiting.

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