Steller: In TUSD case, integration, not achievement, is the goal

2013-12-11T00:00:00Z 2013-12-11T23:19:08Z Steller: In TUSD case, integration, not achievement, is the goalTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

We can thank Willis Hawley for, perhaps unintentionally, laying bare the fundamental flaw that underlies TUSD’s desegregation case today.

Responding to a magnet-

school plan approved by the Tucson Unified School District, Hawley, the man in charge of ensuring the district implements its current deseg plan, said last month that magnet programs should be closed in schools where they’re not achieving their purpose.

That purpose, he reminded the district, is racial integration.

No, the purpose of magnet programs is not primarily to improve academic achievement by Latino or African-American students but, in short, to attract white students to schools where there are too many black or brown kids. In the desegregation case TUSD has been laboring under for 39 years, integration, not achievement, is the bottom line.

The district’s plan “should make clear that the attainment of integrated status is not one of the criteria for magnet designation; it is the necessary criterion,” Hawley wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to H.T. Sanchez, the superintendent of TUSD.

In a later letter, Hawley clarified the point to explain that nothing prevents the district from offering enhanced programs at schools that are racially or ethnically concentrated. They just shouldn’t be considered part of the desegregation effort.

True that, but beside the point, because desegregation money helps pay for those programs.

Among those schools affected are the magnets at Carrillo and Davis elementary schools and Pueblo High School, all of which have a Hispanic population of 86 percent or more.

Hawley’s fundamentalist view of desegregation — that it comes down to mixing the races — runs counter to the received wisdom I’ve been hearing from board members and the previous superintendent this year. John Pedicone, who left office in June, Adelita Grijalva, the board president, and others told me the desegregation plan can be used to improve education for all of TUSD’s students.

To his credit, the new superintendent seems to see through this. When we talked before Tuesday’s board meeting, Sanchez pointed out that under the desegregation rules, a Latino student who wants to attend Carrillo K-5 Magnet School might not be able to, because it needs white Anglo students to become more integrated.

“Carrillo is an A school and has a Rodel teacher,” Sanchez told me, referring to the award for the state’s best teachers. “Minority kids enjoy going to that school. A Latino student has a likelihood of being excluded by the school.”

Hawley is “taking a look at our situation as if it were 1974, not 2013,” Sanchez said. “In 1974, the demographics were reversed to what they are now.”

To his credit, despite these objections to Hawley and the desegregation case, Sanchez seems to be working toward resolving the case as quickly as possible. He took a dramatic step this week by firing the law firm that has represented TUSD for the 39 years of the desegregation case, Deconcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy.

His reasoning was, essentially, that if it hasn’t worked in nearly 40 years, it’s time for a change. The change may not be quite as dramatic as it appears, however: The new lead attorney, William Brammer of Rusing, Lopez & Lizardi, represented the district when he worked for Deconcini, from 1974 to 1997.

To be fair, the illogical situation Sanchez and I are railing against — the possibility of minority kids’ opportunities being limited because of desegregation — is the product of federal law and decades of TUSD inadequacy in its efforts to respond to the desegregation suit.

Hawley is simply following the law, said Rubin Salter, the attorney who has represented African-American students in the suit since 1974. “Whether they like it or not, they’ve got to follow the law.”

Nancy Ramirez, who represents Latino plaintiffs as a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, noted it’s Hawley’s job to help enact the plan all parties agreed to in February.

“My experience working with the special master is that he’s very open-minded, very flexible and very willing to work with the parties to come to an agreement,” she told me Tuesday.

What’s needed, she added, is “that this unitary status plan should be implemented and given a chance to take off.”

Unfortunately, we’ve already had a judge try to write off the district’s shortfalls under the law and declare the case over. When U.S. District Judge David Bury did that in 2009, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his ruling.

So, what TUSD is left with now is simply making the best of a flawed situation. It allowed the desegregation case to fester for decades and now faces the possibility of minority students being denied opportunities in the name of desegregation.

Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing for Sanchez and the district to do but limit the damage as they work to put in place the plan they agreed to and be done with desegregation in 2017.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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