Monday, November 23, 2015

The TUSD Magnet Schools Dilemma Continues: Will There Ever Be a Gray Area?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2015 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of Photospin

The federal court that's been dealing with Tucson Unified School District's desegregation lawsuit is getting quiet a few letters from parents, and others, concerned with the future of eight magnet schools. With the support of the TUSD Governing Board majority, many parents argue that the court, as well as the plaintiffs in the suit, need to consider their opinion, since they actually have children who attend these schools and will be affected by any changes.

Sylvia Campoy, the long-time representative of the Mendoza plaintiffs, says in a mass email that the letters "reflect a great amount of misunderstanding by the public regarding the changes underway to TUSD's magnet program." And who's guilty of providing the community with misguided information, according to Campoy and other critics? Well, the TUSD majority and Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. (Read up on some of the things TUSD has to comply with, here.)

In the latest cour order, which was issued this month, it says: “The TUSD Board is the appropriate venue for the community to obtain information regarding this case and the best venue for the community to provide input and express concerns regarding this case.”

"With this specific order, it is made clear that the TUSD Board is accountable for ACCURATELY informing the public about matters concerning the Desegregation Unitary Status Plan," Campoy says in her email. "Given this, it is my hope that the misinformation campaigns that have attempted to divert attention from the real issues at hand will halt and that the misdirected blame aimed at the special master, the court, the plaintiffs’, legal counsel and representatives will also cease."

She adds that in the more than 40 years she has been involved in the lawsuit, she, and the plaintiffs, have never faced the scrutiny they are going through these days. Again, she points the finger at the district and the alleged misinformation the board and superintendent have been spreading to the parents (who a couple of weeks ago hosted a public meeting, where they invited the TUSD Governing Board, Sanchez, the plaintiffs, and others involved in the lawsuit). Campoy has also said in the past that the suit is in the hands of the district, the plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs' representatives, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF—no one else. 

But to TUSD Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva and the board majority, this idea is extremely outdated. Neither one of the plaintiffs, Campoy, or the special master appointed by the court to oversee the district's desegregation progress, Dr. Willis Hawley, have children who attend TUSD schools. 

"The community is very frustrated," Grijalva told the Weekly. As much as she respects Campoy, she says, "She is not negatively affected by any of these decisions," referring to the eight magnet schools—elementary schools Bonillas, Ochoa and Robison; Safford K-8; Utterback Middle School and high schools Cholla and Pueblo—that could lose that status—and maybe the desegregation funding that comes with that label—given they don't meet court orders, which include the integration goal of NOT having a certain ethnicity make up more than 70 percent of the student body. All of these schools are mostly Latino. 

Grijalva feels it is unrealistic to have one person represent the approximately 30,000 Latino students in TUSD. "This one person," she says, referring to Campoy, "can't represent that may diverse interests." Not even Grijalva pretends she can represent so many different ideas, she adds.

Many are disappointed at the court, Hawley, Campoy, and so on, for not taking into account the fact that the district's demographics have dramatically changed in the past 40 years. TUSD is in a region that is now primarily Latino.

"If you look at some areas in town, the percentages are 99 percent," Grijalva says. "These programs were created to offer more options for children of color. And it is ironic that, because the demographics in our district, those schools are going to lose funding because they are too brown."

Also, removing the magnet programs for that reason will be counterproductive in a way, she argues. If they lose the programs, which are a major incentive that attracts enrollment from all over town, the schools will become more racially concentrated, Grijalva says.  

Campoy, and the rest of the TUSD critics, put the blame on the district—that the leadership has been financially starving these schools, ignoring the court's orders, and neglecting them for so long, what could they expect but lose the desegregation funding and magnet programs?

Grijalva says the Unitary Status Plan the district is supposed to obey continuously changes, making it hard to line up the magnet schools in a pathway to success. 

"This is not the same plan that was in existence a year ago, 40 years ago...This continues to change," she says. "When I agreed to be a part of the majority of the board, voting to implement this plan that is currently in the books, I was also acknowledging the fact that we were going to have a special master I thought was going to work with the district and plaintiffs to come up with some compromises."

"It is almost like the special master has become another plaintiff. We have a document that we think we are adhering to, and then we get other emails and correspondence from either the special master or the plaintiffs...adding and changing things. It is not that TUSD is fighting. If we stick to the plan that is written down, we would be in good shape. The problem is, it continues to be a moving target," Grijalva says.

There is a huge gray area that needs to be looked at—demographics, new principals at many of the magnet schools at risk, and so on, Grijalva says. Also, parents want answers, and the district isn't able to provide them, because the district itself isn't sure what the future will bring. 

"When it comes to the Unitary Status Plan, really, there are four other groups who have a say. If the court says, 'Hey, this is what we are going to do,' we don't have a choice and we have to implement it, regardless of whether it makes sense or not," she says. "The plaintiff representatives are un-elected people. I am elected, whether you like my opinion or not, you can always vote me out, but those positions are un-elected and have MORE power in this case than the governing board as a whole."

Read the latest court order:

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