The most important aspect of the proposed plan for the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) – to get out of its desegregation order – is that beyond individuals, the community is coming together to respond, both as a local and national community.
Perhaps soon, we will hear of El Plan de Tlamanalco (Tucson) or something similar that our community is putting together. And why Tlamanalco? Because the fire and the drum have been there at every step of the way.
What’s before us is not so much a legal matter, but about the will of a community (TUSD has been under a federal desegregation order since 1978 as a result of the Fisher, et al., Mendoza, et al. v. TUSD lawsuit). The plan’s contents permit us to proclaim our struggle a victory. We fought for it, defended it and have never lost faith in the celebrated Mexican American Studies department. What is left is to craft that victory and follow up on it, even if it takes more protests. And when I say we, truth is, it is primarily a student-led victory, led by Social Justice, UNIDOS and MEChA students.
On its face, the unitary plan’s principal feature is that it affirms the success of Tucson’s MAS high school classes – as core curriculum – and calls for their expansion into middle and elementary schools. To be sure, the department was never controversial. It is only its few critics – almost all of whom are non-educators and who do not have children in TUSD schools – that conjured up so-called controversies, without any facts or data and without ever even visiting the MAS or Raza Studies classes.
The plan, which was submitted to the Court, Nov. 9, provides a pathway, however, there are several deficiencies (including the continued segregation of non-English speaking students), but none of those deficiencies are insurmountable, even if it requires new battles. Perhaps the most deficient feature of the document is that it does not address the [dire] situation of American Indian students in the district. While not part of the original lawsuit, the community and the new board will hereafter have the responsibility to do so.
In regards to the plan that was filed, for six years, the state has imposed itself, via the anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281, and the school board has complied, all on the basis of outright distortions against MAS. The latest 2012 study (Cabrera, Milem & Marx:http://www.coe.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/MAS_report_2012_0.pdf.) affirms a positive linkage between taking MAS courses and student success. Both the unitary plan and the study essentially debunk everything that the state, school board and superintendent have been saying and doing for the past few years.
What the unitary plan does is provide the community an opportunity to bring clarity and to create a roadmap as to where we go from here. Word games will be played, legalisms will be the order of the day, but in the end, it is our community that will design the victory, fight for it and ensure it.
The unitary plan does not mention the Mexican American Studies department or its classes by name, however, there is but one department, with a proven track record that was providing “Latino relevant courses” since the 1990s. This plan does not come in a vacuum; that’s why we can dispense with the word games.
The key to this proposed plan is the budget. This time around federal desegregation monies cannot be siphoned off, for everything, but desegregation, as has been the custom since the 1970s to the tune of one billion dollars. Sylvia Campoy, an advocate for the Mendoza plaintiffs says that TUSD has consistently refused court-ordered accountability. Given budgetary pressures, TUSD may again be tempted to do more siphoning. This plan, however, calls for the tracking of these monies. If approved, accountability will not simply be a wish, but part of a court order, monitored by our community.
What is instructive is that the law firm representing TUSD responded on the very same day that the plan was made public. Their principal objection is their claim that they do “not acknowledge or admit that vestiges of the segregated system remain in the district.” Furthermore, they believe that even if there were [problems to be solved], that the district “is already in the process of revising its social studies curriculum to include multicultural perspectives.” Not quite. The unitary plan does call for a multicultural initiative – which is a good idea – but given TUSD’s reliance on it – as a replacement for MAS – and given TUSD’s track record, it is safe to say that most of us would feel a little more comfortable if the primary emphasis was placed on restoring and expanding MAS first.
Yet, even before dismantling their legal objections, it is important to note that the TUSD legal response reflects the thinking of the superintendent and the old majority of the school board. As of these past elections, TUSD has a new majority that for all intents and purposes, is friendly to MAS.
The next step does not belong to the new school board majority, but rather to our community. It is we who will craft a plan and it will be up to the new friendly majority to carry it out. At the end of November, there will be community hearings for input. Once the input is complete, the special master (appointed by the court), will submit his plan to the judge and then the judge will issue a court order. The new board, in turn, will interpret the decision, and then carry it out.
We have been told that under the guidance of the court, the proposed plan cannot guarantee the return of the former MAS director (Sean Arce ) to his rightful position, nor the former MAS teachers to theirs. That may be true, but the new board can make that happen and it is our community that can provide that guarantee. It is highly doubtful that our community protested, marched, walked, walked out, ran, rallied, occupied buildings, got arrested (and some beaten), and attended countless board meetings (and took over one of them), only to have the maestros fired through the back door.
The attack on MAS was not limited to an attack on the program, but on the discipline of Raza Studies and on the red-brown communities of Arizona and nationwide. It will be difficult to forget that this battle was waged against us as a civilizational war, especially since HB 2281 is still on the books. That is why as a community, it is incumbent upon us to create a plan that restores the Indigenous or maiz-based curriculum, and that also uplifts all students in the district, including American Indian students.
- For a copy of the proposed unitary plan, plus instructions on how to provide input, go to: www.tucsonusp.com
- For a copy of the TUSD legal response, go to: http://threesonorans.com/2012/11/09/democratic-run-tusd-uses-democratic-law-firm-to-immediately-object-to-return-of-mas-under-federal-orders/
- Independent of this plan, El Plan de Los Angeles seeks to spread Raza Studies to K-12 schools nationwide. For info, go to: RazaStudiesNow.com