12/13/2012 05:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Federal Intervention Matters: Will Mexican American Studies Fiasco in Tucson End in 2013?

What a difference a year makes -- especially for students in Tucson, Arizona, the "Little Rock" of education for our modern times.

While President Dwight Eisenhower overruled the "leadership of demagogic extremists" in that segregated hotspot in Arkansas more than a half century ago, federally-appointed Special Master William Hawley and U.S. District Court Judge David Bury will begin the final process of adjudicating the agreements and objections in Tucson's historic federal desegregation order on Friday, which could pave the way for the return of the outlawed Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in the fall of 2013.

Never has federal intervention in the Tucson Unified School District's disgraceful fiasco over Mexican American Studies seemed more needed -- at least until the next governing school board takes power on January 8, 2013.

Arizona is not simply a rogue state; it's a dysfunctional one.

Nearly a year ago, when the TUSD school board drew national attention for its widely denounced move to dismantle the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program and banish Latino books and curriculum from the classrooms, long-time education activist Sylvia Campoy had warned TUSD officials of the federal desegregation order's overriding mandate.

Arizona extremists, and their Tucson allies, still don't seem to be paying attention.

Despite his own spiraling series of embarrassing scandals, Attorney General Tom Horne doubled-down on his bizarre witch hunt of Ethnic Studies in Arizona and filed his own objections to the Unitary Status Plan, the federally-negotiated agreement between Mexican American and African American plaintiffs, TUSD and the Department of Justice.

Specifically, in terms of reinstating the outlawed Mexican American Studies program, this is the make-or-break provision in newly proposed Unitary Status Plan mandate:

By the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, the District shall 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. The core curriculum described in this section shall be offered commencing in the fall term of the 2013-2014 school year. The District shall pilot the expansion of courses designed to reflect the history, experiences, and culture of African American and Mexican American communities to sixth through eighth graders in the 2014-2015 school year, and shall explore similar expansions throughout the K-12 curriculum in the 2015-2016 school year.

In a clever tactical move, Horne conjoined the state of Arizona's objection's to "TUSD's objections," as a reminder of an internal battle being waged inside TUSD by the supporters of the acclaimed Mexican American Studies program, the fumbling school board and TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, who has drawn national condemnation for his use of excessive police force and tactics.

That conflict between TUSD administrators and the school board became more apparent on Tuesday, when the governing board surprised the community with a confusing vote on the district's objection over the key "culturally relevant courses" provision in Unitary Status Plan, only to backpedal after meeting with TUSD counsel and announce that the vote was apparently more symbolic than real.

Watch the TUSD school vote for yourself :

(Video courtesy of Three Sonorans)

"The apparent manipulation of the Governing Board votes stole an important first step," Tucson attorney Richard Martinez noted.

It also marked a turning point, as long-time community leader Miguel Ortega suggested on Tuesday night.

In looking at the long-term impact of the vote, as a new TUSD school board takes over in January, and as Mexican American Studies students await another federal court decision on the constitutionality of the controversial state law against Ethnic Studies, Ortega said:

Despite the confusion over last Tuesday's board meeting, we are still within striking distance of victory. In the Sonoran Desert, politicians and their hateful rhetoric tend to come and go. These temporary gasps of intolerance are never a real match for us. We have grown deep roots made of history and identity over the decades and they protect us from being moved. Our fight is not over and, as expected, we will continue to receive push back from TUSD bureaucrats and even from the incumbents we have kicked out of office. If last Tuesday's vote from the very board that ended MAS tells us anything it is that newly elected board members will be hard-pressed to do anything less than finish the job quickly & decisively once seated. So long as our community continues to work from a position of barrio self-determination, so long as we continue to push our newly elected board members to find the courage to use their voices and advocate, so long as we as community members continue to resist a draconian vision for our kids' future, 2013 will be the year the Mexican American Studies program returns to Tucson for good.

Make that: 2013 will be the year the Mexican American Studies program returns to Tucson for good, as long as the federal courts continue to bring some sanity back to students in Arizona.