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TUSD's long-awaited new desegregation plan is here—and Mexican-American studies is part of it

Around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9—after almost 10 months of meetings, negotiations and extensions—the long-awaited new desegregation plan for the Tucson Unified School District was finally made public.

In the last federal desegregation plan, Mexican-American studies was featured prominently, as was a road map for how to expand the program throughout the district.

Of course, that was before Tom Horne helped write an anti-Mexican-American studies law when he was state superintendent of public instruction; before he fought to uphold the law as Arizona's attorney general; and before the TUSD governing board voted 4-1 to dismantle MAS on Jan. 10, 2012.

However, court-appointed desegregation special master Willis Hawley wants MAS back in TUSD classrooms for the 2013-2014 school year. The program and its implementation will depend on a public-comment process, as well as any objections filed by the involved parties, including Horne.

In an interview on Monday, Nov. 12, with attorney Nancy Ramirez and Sylvia Campoy from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, Ramirez said they're unable to discuss or provide background on the desegregation negotiations. All the parties involved—MALDEF, on behalf of the Mendoza plaintiffs representing Latino students; Tucson attorney Rubin Salter, on behalf of the Fisher plaintiffs representing African-American students; TUSD; and the U.S. Department of Justice—remain under an order from U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury that prevents them from discussing negotiations.

"We can say we are pleased with the outcome of this draft plan," Ramirez said. "It is comprehensive and an ambitious one. ... There are lots of tools and strategies that will benefit Latino students and all parties."

Ramirez described Hawley as the architect of most of the provisions, with the school district, plaintiffs and the DOJ providing input. She added that the proposal includes a thorough plan for enforcement and monitoring.

"There are also a few objections (from each of the parties)," she said, "because we worked out most of them while we were drafting it. With just a few (objections), there is more buy-in in this plan," making it more likely that much of what is presented to the public will be implemented.

The 84-page document begins with the history of the desegregation case, which began in 1974. The plan focuses on more than a dozen areas, including student assignment, transportation, administration and certified staff, professional development, quality of education, discipline, family and community engagement, extracurricular activities, facilities and technology, and accountability and transparency, as well as budgeting, monitoring, reporting and deadlines.

The objections noted in the plan will be taken into consideration by Bury. Horne, who tried to prevent Mexican-American studies classes from being part of the desegregation planning, has until Nov. 28 to file any objections. In June, Bury issued an order preventing Horne from intervening, but allowed him to file objections at the end of the process.

The plan is being made available for public review at each TUSD school and online at tucsonusp.com. Public forums are from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 26, at Tucson Magnet High School; Tuesday, Nov. 27, at El Pueblo Regional Center; and Wednesday, Nov. 28, at Palo Verde High School. The public comment period closes Nov. 28. A revised plan with any changes will be filed with the court by Hawley on Dec. 10, and all parties involved in the negotiations have until Dec. 14 to file any objections to the changes.

In the last desegregation plan, the TUSD governing board approved expanding MAS. The last plan also referred to specific class titles, such as American history/Chicano perspectives, American government/social justice education, and English/Latino literature—classes that were targeted by Horne and dismantled in January.

In the new plan, a multicultural curriculum is offered as a way to engage Latino and African-American students; such a program is currently being developed by TUSD and was first touted as a replacement for the MAS curriculum.

"The multicultural curriculum shall provide students with a range of opportunities to conduct research and improve critical thinking and learning skills, create a positive and inclusive climate in classes and schools that builds respect and understanding among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and promote and develop a sense of civic responsibility among all students," the new plan states. "The courses shall be offered commencing in the 2013-2014 school year."

It states that in the next school year, the district will also develop courses and instruction relevant to "the history, experiences, and culture of African-American and Latino communities. Core courses of instruction shall be developed in social studies and literature and shall be offered at all feasible grade levels in all high schools across the district, subject to the district's minimum enrollment guidelines."

It also includes expanding those classes to sixth- and eighth-graders in 2014-2015 as core or elective courses, and throughout the K-12 curriculum in 2015-2016. Noted in the proposal is TUSD's objection "to these courses being offered as core courses."

Ramirez said that another area of the plan related to MAS is the creation and hiring of a coordinator for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Instruction. It may not mean hiring a new person, but instead designating someone to be in this position and other positions that are part of the plan. The CRPI coordinator will supervise the implementation of classes that focus "on the cultural and historical experiences and perspectives of African-American and Latino communities."

Ramirez said Hawley will not be involved in any of the hires. Those will be made by TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone and the governing board.

The district's new academic-service departments for Latino; African-American; Native American; and Asian-American/Pacific Islander students will remain in place, and the CRPI coordinator will work with the directors of those departments. Native American and Asian students are not in the desegregation plan, Ramirez said, because they were not plaintiffs represented during the negotiations.

TUSD is under a hiring and curriculum timeline according to the plan—classes, curriculum and the training of teachers have to be in place by July 1. Ramirez said MALDEF objected to that date, because it wanted the deadline moved up to April.

Campoy emphasized the importance of the comment period.

"The special master will be present at all of the public forums to hear the comments from the public," Campoy said. "The special master will take those comments, as well as those submitted by email or mail, if he chooses to, and make changes to the plan based on those comments."

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