Tuesday, September 2, 2014

MALDEF’s Latino State of the State to Focus on Education, Desegregation

Posted By on Tue, Sep 2, 2014 at 11:08 AM

This isn’t the first Latino State of the State the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has done in Arizona. According to MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz, the last one was in Phoenix in 2012, but as Tucson Unified School District continues to delay implementation of its court-ordered desegregation plan and legally challenge parts of a plan it agreed to in 2013, it made sense to bring the Latino State of the State to the district’s backyard on Thursday, Sept. 4.

The free event, from 4:45 to 8 p.m., takes place at the Arizona History Museum, 949 E. 2nd Street, with a panel discussion 4:45 to 6:30 p.m. and a reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m. To RSVP, contact Stephanie Loera at sloera@maldef.org or call 213-629-2512 ext. 143. News anchor José Ronstadt, of Phoenix's Noticias 22 MundoFox, is the moderator for the evening, joining Saenz with panelists M. Beatriz Arias, vice president of the Center for Applied Linguistics; Dulce Matuz, president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition; Francisco Heredia, director of One Arizona; Lois D. Thompson, partner with Proskauer Rose LLP and attorney working with the plaintiffs on the TUSD desegregation case.

The Tucson Weekly recently talked with Saenz to ask about the event and the district's 40-plus year desegregation case:

Is the purpose of this year’s Latino State of the State to call attention to TUSD’s continuing challenge of its court-ordered desegregation plan?
It certainly played a significant role in our deciding to do it in Tucson. We did it in the capital two years ago, but this time we wanted to be in Tucson precisely because of this long-standing case in which TUSD could be a national leader in creating greater equality and opportunity for the Latino community. Achieving that objective requires the district to put more commitment behind complying with the unitary status plan, which lays out very important measures to make sure there is greater integration and greater opportunity.

Are you concerned that the district is behind in many of the plan’s deadlines and continues to challenge parts of the plan in court, while complaining about the plaintiff legal fees?
It is a concern and we do want to ensure the public is aware of these issues and understands the opportunity there is to ensure that Tucson if it wants be ahead of the curb, it can be a real leader, but things need to change.

Are there other desegregation cases around the country?

We may have one or two cases in Texas, but really that’s it. Nationwide the Supreme Court majority has cut back consent decrees that involve too much race conscious action. Usually that associated with busing or admission to magnet programs … it’s all part of what I would say is a broader color-blindness agenda on the part of the majority that’s cut down on these cases.

However Tucson is different, right?
Yes, in Tucson what the Ninth Circuit concluded is that they recognized there were still recent indications that the district was not taking the steps and indeed was taking the contrary steps to root out what has been intentional segregation going back decades ago.

In your work have you ever seen a district continue to react to a court-ordered desegregation plan as TUSD has?
No. I’ve been involved in many cases related to education consent decrees. It’s easy for a district to point a finger at these decrees whenever they are called to take action. This is a plan that is detailed and lengthy. Most people don’t have an understanding of what’s in the plan and what’s expected of the district. With respect to this particular decree, there is a process in place and the district is failing but not because of ambiguity. This is a decree the district agreed to (after working on it with the plaintiffs for more than six months). Now the district has second thoughts after initially implicitly agreeing to take certain steps. Maybe they didn’t anticipate opposition in certain corners of the district or in it bureaucracy. These decrees are easy to scape goat. But why blame something else?

Some say it’s because there’s a lack of clarity in the plan?
This has not been about lack of clarity but the district’s failure to do things clearly laid out in the plan.
What makes this case seem particularly unprecedented is that you have US District Judge David C. Bury really coming down hard on the district, accusing TUSD of not being collaborative and being more aggressive and legalistic.

You have a case now in which the district’s own court-appointed special master, whose job it is to work with everyone involved and is a national deseg expert specifically chosen by the African-American student plaintiff representatives, was provided his own legal counsel. Is this also what makes this particular case so unusual?
Yes. The selection of a special master, look everyone had input on who we wanted. But you hope to find someone highly qualified who can have a strong relationship with everyone involved. It’s important to find someone who is accessible. Like everyone involved, the district has a responsibility to have a good working relationship with the special master. Instead they have framed him as an outsider who is an adversary. It’s an impediment to ending the case sooner.

Besides painting the special master as an outsider, the other focus has been challenging his fees and the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, too, like MALDEF, representing Mexican-American students and Tucson attorney Ruben Salter, representing African-American students.
When the district files objections, files the kind of opposition that you see, we have an absolute ethical obligation which requires us to insure the unitary status plan has been implemented effectively. This is largely in hands of district.

Arizona has proven to be a unique state for MALDEF to work, yes?
Arizona is unique. In Tucson, the way the district and its Latino students, teachers and community became a statewide target. There’s a very difficult atmosphere throughout the state that have conspired together to put us where we are. MALDEF wouldn’t be involved in Tucson if it weren’t for Sylvia Campoy. She is a true hero and has put herself in great difficulty to continue to make sure the best interests of TUSD’s students is paramount. It’s further testament to her commitment. It’s also a mission of MALDEF, one we endorse and embrace.

What will the panelists focus on?
I think we are going to focus on the issues around ethnic studies and the importance of taking measures to integrate. Certainly the central theme is also how Arizona has certainly been hostile to a significant portion of its population. We hope people can see this education decree as a way to turn that tide and see how TUSD can be a leader and an example.

Will anyone representing TUSD be there?
They’ve been invited, as has the general public, to attend in person.

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