02/08/2013 02:53 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2013

Judge Rebukes Arizona in Tucson Desegregation Decree: Will Mexican American Studies Return?

Denying Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne the right to intervene in Tucson's historic desegregation decree this week, U.S. District Judge David Bury signed off on a "Unitary Status Plan" that throws the fate of any refashioning of the outlawed Mexican American Studies program back into the hands of the Tucson Unified School District.

While the long journey for equality in Tucson's schools has taken a leap forward, questions still abound over what the judicial decision means for the indisputably successful Mexican American Studies curriculum in a rogue state that has mounted a modern-day witch hunt against Ethnic Studies, even as Tucson awaits another federal court ruling over the constitutionality of Arizona's draconian Ethnic Studies law.

"Today's ruling is the culmination of years of vigilance by the Latino and local communities in Tucson demanding accountability and transparency by the Tucson Unified School District that would ultimately lead to equal opportunities for Latino students," Nancy Ramirez, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Western Regional Counsel and lead attorney said in a press release.

Key words: Accountability and transparency.

"It is with great trepidation that we await how Tucson Unified School District officials will react to the Unitary Status Plan (USP)," said former Mexican American Studies teacher Norma Gonzalez. "However, we are hopeful of several possibilities with this court order."

Under the Unitary Status Plan, which will be monitored by the federally appointed Special Master, "by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year," TUSD must:

"Develop and implement culturally relevant courses of instruction designed to reflect the history, experiences, and culture of African American and Mexican American communities. Such courses of instruction for core English and Social Studies credit shall be developed and offered at all feasible grade levels in all high schools across the District, subject to the District's minimum enrollment guidelines. All courses shall be developed using the District's curricular review process and shall meet District and state standards for academic rigor."

Working with other Mexican American Studies teachers, Gonzalez noted three possibilities emerging from the court order:

1. That the new board members act in accordance with this ruling and bring back the Mexican American Studies curriculum and pedagogy to inform the district wide effort to provide Culturally Relevant Instruction courses at all schools, given that the program is supported by the Cabrera Report for its effectiveness in academic achievement for all students. We are hopeful the new TUSD school board majority of Adelita Grijalva, Kristal Foster, and Cami Juarez will all continue to advocate for the our community who have been devastated by this continuous assault on our children.

2. In conjunction with this agreement, that the Tashima ruling is soon to come out and that it will rule HB 2281 unconstitutional and again the MAS courses and pedagogy will be revived and be implemented district wide as the USP demands.

3. That the district act in good faith with respect to demonstrating to the Mendoza-Fisher parties its commitment and responsibility to the court-adopted desegregation plan. Obviously the district is in this predicament because it has chosen not to act in good faith and they must assume responsibility now for the benefit of all the students. It is clear that despite the budget cuts our district finds itself, the Culturally Relevant Instruction classes, administrators, and staff for African-American and Latina/o communities will not be affected as they will be founded by the $61 million desegregation federal money.

Bury did raise the specter of the State's "powerful weapon" and its ability to withhold 10 percent of state funding from TUSD to ensure that TUSD complies with state law. But in a powerful reminder of the federal jurisdiction over Tucson's nearly four decades of desegregation litigation, Bury rebuked Arizona's concerns over "illegal course of instruction," and wrote that the "ruling does not override State law, and even if it did- the Supreme Court has held that state laws cannot be allowed to impede a desegregation order."

"The plan approved by the court today is a game-changer for the children of Tucson," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "It reflects the collective efforts of families and educators in Tucson, and the strong collaboration of the parties in this case, to forge a new path forward for the Tucson public schools."

"Given what has occurred in Tucson Unified School District over the course of the last few years relative to Mexican American Studies, the community will also keep a very watchful eye over TUSD's progress in the implementation of the Court Ordered Desegregation Plan," added Sylvia Campoy, a long-time Tucson educator and negotiator for the Latino plaintiffs. "It is only through effective implementation of the Plan and an extended period of demonstrated good faith effort that we can hope to see racial/ethnic discrimination eliminated within TUSD root and branch."