Desegregation efforts in the Tucson Unified School District started with a lawsuit filed 38 years ago.
In 1974, two families filed separate lawsuits against the district to address disparities in the education of African-American and Mexican-American students. In 1975, the Fisher and Mendoza families consolidated their lawsuits, with the Fishers representing African-American students, and the Mendozas representing Latino students.
Following a 1977 trial, the court found that TUSD "had acted with segregative intent" in the past and failed to fix the problem.
A citizens' committee began monitoring the district and filing reports, and did so through 2005, when the committee did a review to determine whether the district was following settlement requirements. The committee determined that the district was not in compliance. However, the district asked the court to grant it unitary status—meaning that all of disparities in the district had been fixed.
In 2007, preliminary findings showed the district was in unitary status, and in 2009, the court accepted what is called a post-unitary status plan. One of many elements of that plan was that the district expand its Mexican-American studies program.
However, the Mendoza clients didn't see any changes taking place based on the plan, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a nationwide Latino civil-rights group, appealed the court's decision.
In 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision to give TUSD unitary status.
Meanwhile, the state's efforts to dismantle MAS—which began in 2006 with a controversial talk by labor leader Dolores Huerta at Tucson High Magnet School—continued. Although an independent audit commissioned by the state Department of Education found that the school district was not breaking the state law aimed at dismantling MAS, state schools Superintendent John Huppenthal ignored the audit and issued a ruling against the district.
On Sept. 13, 2011, the U.S. District Court ordered that the post-unitary status plan would remain in place, and a special master was appointed to help the district develop a new "road map."
In late 2011, the school district appealed Huppenthal's ethnic-studies ruling and took the case to a state administrative judge. The judge ruled that the district was not in compliance with the law.
In January 2012, TUSD's governing board voted 4-1 not to appeal the findings of the administrative judge and Huppenthal, and began dismantling the Mexican-American studies program. Shortly after the second semester started, Chicano history and literature classes were turned into "regular" history and literature classes, and books were removed from classrooms—sometimes in front of students.
Critics argued that if a federal court ruling said the district must expand Mexican-American studies, the district must keep the MAS classes in place. At a community meeting shortly after the board decided to dismantle MAS, governing-board member Adelita Grijalva said that she mentioned the desegregation order to her fellow board members, but their attitude was that the district was already so far out of compliance that it didn't matter.
Attorneys with MALDEF tried to have the classes reinstated, but the request was denied by the special master. MALDEF filed a motion for the court to reconsider, but that motion was also denied.
Sylvia Campoy, a former school board member who represents the Mendoza plaintiffs in the desegregation case, says the goal now is to help the special master develop another unitary status plan that will address the disparities that still exist for Latino students in graduation rates, provisions for English-language learners, the district's GATE program for gifted students, Advanced Placement classes, special-education placement and other issues.