Parents of kids at the five Tucson Unified School District schools at risk of losing magnet status feel their and their children's voices are being ignored. Some say they have witnessed a more than 40-year-old desegregation lawsuit go from its initial purpose of providing minority students with the same opportunities as white students turn into something that could do more harm than good.
At last night's TUSD board meeting the parents wondered, why is the focus on statistics and not student achievement?
The schools in question are: elementary schools Bonillas and Ochoa; Safford K-8; Utterback Middle School and Cholla High School. In order to maintain magnet status, and the approximately $64 million per year funding that comes with that, no ethnic group can make up more than 70 percent of the students. At these schools, Latinos continue to be the majority.
For Ochoa parent and organizer Cesar Aguirre, these schools are being punished for being "too brown."
"Desegregation, integration, what year are we in again? 2014 was the year our district went from having the minority population become the majority population. I am still trying to wrap my head around this whole integration deal," he said at the board meeting. "Talking to somebody who isn't within our district, 'We are going to lose our magnet programs and the funding that goes with it. Why? Because we didn't have enough white kids at our school.' And he looked at me and said, 'That is straight up discrimination!' Our school is too brown, so we are being punished for it."
"This case 40 years ago was started with the intention of protecting our children to improve quality of education of our children now it is being used to harm our children, to take away the opportunities that we have been fighting for so long. Growing up brown and poor on the South Side of Tucson I can tell you the one thing that got me off the streets ...out of prison...kept me out of selling drugs was education."
Schools like Ochoa and Cholla went from a D rating to a B rating, and many parents and educators attribute the success to the magnet programs, which include service to reduce the racial and ethnic academic achievement gap. The schools are headed upward even though they haven't met the racial balance demanded by the lawsuit. In the meantime, federal court appointed special master Willis Hawley hasn't met with parents or students. Critics at the board meeting said he's view is outdated and out of touch.
Aguirre sent Hawley an email inviting him to meet with parents after the TUSD board meeting, but Hawley didn't show up.
From an email Hawley sent Aguirre in response to the request:
I am unable to engage in these kinds of sessions because of the role I play as an officer of the Court. If you have specific questions about the criteria or processes, I can provide that if you send me an email. I understand and respect your concerns. I have provided a report to the parties that the District has as do the plaintiffs. You might want to request that report. There is a great deal of misinformation and the report might help.
Some place the blame on the special master and the court, but others, such as Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, who's unsuccessfully ran for the TUSD board twice, argue it is the district's fault because they have mismanaged the deseg funds. (Earlier this year, a state Legislature bill hoped to defund desegregation
The current situation has left many to wonder, is this another attack against minority students at TUSD? Similarly to what happened with the Mexican-American Studies program and the culturally relevant curriculum, which were proven to help student achievement, particularly minority students who are more likely to drop-out, but the state and other parties ignored those results. Instead, the district gave into threats from the state and gutted MAS. As far as the culturally relevant curriculum, that was recently also watered down even more
, according to critics.