Maria Inés Taracena
Cesar Aguirre’s youngest daughter attends Ochoa Elementary. He fears losing magnet funding would lead to the school’s closure. Aguirre has organized a meeting with other parents and students to discuss their involvement in the deseg lawsuit.
Pueblo Magnet High School and Robison Elementary School are at risk of losing magnet status if Tucson Unified School District doesn't comply with a new to-do list filed by the parties involved in the decades-long desegregation lawsuit. They are the two latest schools added to a list of six others facing the same problem.
In September, Willis Hawley
—the special master appointed by the federal court to oversee the district's progress— said elementary schools Bonillas and Ochoa; Safford K-8; Utterback Middle School and Cholla High School could lose their status because they were not integrated. The court order says that Hispanics, or any ethnicity, cannot make up more than 70 percent of the student body. At first, Pueblo was left out of that list, even though 90 percent of students are Hispanic (70 percent are enrolled in magnet programs, so according to Hawley, the school met the criteria). Holladay Elementary School was later added to the list, for a grand total of eight schools that could lose their magnet status.
According to Sylvia Campoy—who's been involved in the deseg lawsuit since the beginning and is the representative for the Mendoza plaintiffs (Fisher & Mendoza v. Tucson Unified School District)—the district has had since 2013 to fix the issues pointed out by the court. (That year they had to draft a new magnet plan.) Most recently, the court issued another order: Magnet schools had eight months to develop plans to meet the goals required by the court. On the 40th school day, Hawley was supposed to review the schools, which were ordered to be integrated by 2016 and have met academic criteria demands by the 2016-2017 school year. According to Campoy, some magnet school administrators reached out saying they didn't even have a copy of the court order.
"The situation cannot be a surprise to anyone paying attention, the court order handed down eight months ago was unambiguous, throughout the development of the magnet plans this spring, most, if not all of these schools were identified as being vulnerable to losing their magnet status," Hawley wrote in his September report.
While TUSD board members, and a group of parents and students, argue the district was not given enough time to implement its magnet plan, Campoy and other critics say the district has neglected its magnet schools for years, so the ultimatum should have been expected.
She says the district is in the situation that it's in because it's ignored feedback from the plaintiffs and the special master, and it has financially "starved" its magnet schools, she says. What's unfortunate, according to Campoy, is that TUSD's leadership is providing families with inaccurate information and portraying Hawley as a boogie man—with the purpose to defund schools and watch them burn, when that's not the case. It is on the district's shoulders, she told the Weekly
"You have got some magnet schools that have been sitting there neglected for 15 years, they are racially concentrated, what else could you expect?" Campoy says.
This school year began with the district taking nearly $1 million away from magnet schools, and with several faculty and staff vacancies, according to Campoy and Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, a critic of the board majority who's run for the TUSD board twice unsuccessfully.
"I do believe magnet schools need more time, but this time they need more time with the resources that they need," Putnam-Hidalgo told the governing board in an October meeting. "(The board) is withholding the resources."
On Oct. 7, the Mendoza Plaintiffs and TUSD agreed to new terms
to save magnet status of these schools, including hiring staff for vacant positions by Nov. 1 "as well as boost efforts in the critical Unitary Status Plan areas of academic achievement and integration," says Campoy in a mass email. Also, the schools should have no vacancies at the beginning of next school year, and the district has to allocate the nearly $1 million that it removed from the magnet schools.
The new stipulation, where Pueblo and Robinson were added to the list, was filed on Nov. 6, according to Campoy.
From Campoy's email:
As I have said previously, this effort ensures the fastest and most visible support needed at the magnet schools and prevents time consuming and expensive litigation. The Mendoza Plaintiffs' position continues to be one of supporting the magnet schools with the hope that the District will take advantage of the additional year to comply with the (Unitary Status Plan) and carry through on supporting the schools through to success, without excuses and blame. As an important reminder, since the February 19, 2013 (almost three years) the jointly stipulated Unitary Status Plan has taken the form of the desegregation court order. Thus, for almost a three year period, the District has known of its USP obligations, inclusive of those pertaining to the magnet schools, which includes integration and improved academic achievement, though many are now arguing that the schools have only been provided with a few months to comply with the court order.
The demographic changes which have taken place since 1978 (the year of the original desegregation court order) within TUSD has also been used as an excuse to run from the USP integration requirements. At the time the 2013 USP was stipulated- current demographic data was used; not data from 1978.
The Mendoza Plaintiffs’ position has been unfaltering and one which has been expressed for years; not mere weeks or months. It did not begin with any current campaign to confuse and anger school communities, inclusive of community leaders and elected officials, nor will it end when the campaign wanes and the distractors go on to attack other USP issues.
In the meantime, students and parents of the schools in danger of losing magnet status are having a meeting this evening, and have invited the lawsuit plaintiffs, representatives and Hawley to attend and listen to what they have to say about the situation. They argue the court has ignored parent feedback, and that they, too, should have a say in the suit.
"The people with the power to destroy our schools or make them flourish, Judge Bury, Special Master Hawley, the plaintiff reps and their lawyers and TUSD, have all been invited to this action. It is in the best interest of all these parties to listen to Parents and Students of TUSD Magnet Schools," the Facebook even page says. "Be sure to get there early to enjoy the performances by students."