The swearing in of two new members of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board made a big difference in decisions Tuesday night.
Kristel Ann Foster and Cam Juarez cast the deciding votes on their first night as TUSD board members.
Adelita Grijalva was elected board president minutes after the swearing in of Foster, Juarez and Mark Stegeman, the only board member reelected in November.
The board then met privately with its lawyers, and after one hour, emerged to vote 3-2 to remove TUSD’s objection to teaching culturally relevant core courses as part of a desegregation plan.
Stegeman and Michael Hicks voted to keep the objections in the plan.
TUSD shut down its Mexican American studies classes in January 2012 after the Arizona Department of Education said the courses violated state law and the district could lose $15 million in state funding.
The same governing board that voted to end the classes also voted on the district's objection to a multicultural curriculum in mid-December in what led to board confusion and legal differences over what was done. That's why she brought the issue back to a vote, she said.
A desegregation expert drafted a plan that would put TUSD in compliance with a federal desegregation mandate that aims at providing racial balance in the district.
The proposed plan does not mention the now-defunct Mexican American studies classes by name. A court-appointed overseer known as a special master wrote his recommendations for the district, which included a multicultural curriculum and core classes relevant to Mexican-American and African-American cultures.
The plan included side notes that detailed objections from TUSD and other parties involved. One of those objections from TUSD officials, was to the multicultural curriculum.
Juarez was in the majority when he voted to remove the objection and said it is time for the district to start changing its public image and reputation.
"We need to get out of that mindset that the community is at war with the district and with the board," Juarez said. "We need to start working together and building some bridges, just start working together for the sake of our kids.”
As a result of Tuesday's vote, TUSD will file a motion in federal court to withdraw the district’s objections to the classes.
"It will be up to the judge to determine what weight to give it," said Heather Gaines, a lawyer representing the district. "The judge will know that the governing board is withdrawing the objections that it previously raised, and the judge may certainly consider that as he has not ruled yet.”
It is unknown when the federal judge will rule on the desegregation case, she said.
"What I do know is that he recognizes that time is really of the essence as we are trying to get this implemented and planned for the next school year," Gaines said.
Stegeman pushed for the objection to the culturally relevant classes again Tuesday night, saying they fall outside of the original court case that put TUSD under a desegregation order. Such classes would “self-segregate rather than desegregate students,” he said.
The desegregation case began in 1974, when parents of Mexican-American and African-American students sued TUSD for what they called discrimination against their children. The parents were represented by the NAACP and the Mexican Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The federal government intervened in 1976 in what became known as the Fisher-Mendoza case.
A few years later, the parties reached a settlement putting TUSD under a desegregation order monitored by the U.S. Justice Department.
The 1978 desegregation order remained in effect until 2009, when TUSD filed a petition in federal court to terminate federal oversight.
"The court has acknowledged that the district will operate for the advocacy and equal advantage of every child," TUSD officials said at the time. But the plaintiffs in the original desegregation case appealed that decision.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district's status and appointed a special master to develop the new plan last year. That plan is now in the hands of a federal judge.