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Join Tucson’s Fight for Desegregation

Mention school desegregation, and most people envision the Little Rock Nine—not the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). But Tucson is exactly where the battle for desegregation is being fought today.

Mention school desegregation, and most people envision the Little Rock Nine—not the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). But Tucson is exactly where the battle for desegregation is being fought today. 

Hundreds of students walked out of Tucson area schools this month protesting the dissolution of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in concordance with state law HB 2281, the latest in a 30-year series of maneuvers by opponents to avoid the desegregation order issued in Roy Fisher, et al., and Maria Mendoza, et al. v. Tucson.

In 1978, plaintiffs Mendoza and Fisher were told that TUSD would be required to remedy the ill effects of past segregation within the district. They could not have known that their fight for equality was only just beginning. What was initially presented as a five-year desegregation plan stretched into 30 years. In 2009 TUSD was granted unified status and released from court supervision despite the court finding it had “failed to act in good faith in its ongoing operation of the District under the Settlement Agreement.”

TUSD began operating under its Post-Unitary Status Plan, which promised that the district’s MAS program would be expanded. TUSD did support the existing MAS program, but it failed to follow through on its promise of expansion. Because TUSD also abandoned other important policies outlined in the plan, the court revoked the district’s unified status in 2011, saying it had failed to act in good-faith compliance with the order to integrate schools-yet again.

Now, only months later, the MAS program is being completely dismantled under a state law clearly meant to overturn what has been accomplished and thwart an inclusive educational environment. What the district should be doing is expanding MAS to become an integrated curriculum rather than a single course available to only a small percentage of students, thus providing a quality education to all students with a curriculum that recognizes their cultures.

The challenges ahead are large, but Tucson educators and students aren’t backing down. You can help them in their struggle. Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) is reaching out to educators nationwide and calling for a month of solidarity teach-ins in support of Tucson’s MAS program.

Beginning today (when Tucson schools mustcomply with HB 2281), educators are invited to show their support of Tucson’s ongoing fight against discrimination by teaching lessons from and about thebanned MAS program. Sample lesson plans from the MAS curriculum-as well as creative ideas andresources for exploring this issue with students-can be found on the No History is Illegal website.

Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’ refusal to admit African-American students to Little Rock Central High School had far greater implications than the fate of nine students. The refusal of TUSD to honor its 1978 agreement to desegregate will have consequences as far reaching. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pettway is associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.