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TUCSON -- The Tucson Unified School District has outlined its latest plans to free itself from federal oversight of its desegregation efforts to a federal judge.

The plan submitted Friday focuses on balancing the racial makeup of schools, improving the hiring and retention of minority employees, and improving educational opportunities for black and Hispanic students, according to a report 9 in the Arizona Daily Star. It also focuses on changes needed in such areas as facilities and technology, discipline, family and community engagement, transportation of minority students, student assignment and extracurricular activities.

It provides specific timelines as to when the district must meet the plan's requirements.

District spokeswoman Cara Rene says the public can comment on the latest plan until Nov. 28.

The district has been under a court desegregation order for more than 30 years. The case began with a class-action lawsuit filed by parents of Hispanic and black students against the district.

The desegregation order was lifted in 2009 but reinstated last year after a federal appeals court found the district judge erred in lifting it despite finding the district hadn't acted in good faith.

The district receives millions of dollars in funding each year to help pay for programs and policies required under its desegregation plans. The city's largest district has more than 51,000 students, with about 32,000 Hispanic and about 2,800 black students.

An attorney for the black plaintiffs was satisfied with the most recent plan.

"It's a very well-written, designed plan," said attorney Rubin Salter Jr. "There are some out-of-the-box things in there."

Board members interviewed by the Star generally like it as well, with some reservations.

"This plan is clearer. It's better written and easier to understand," said board member Mark Stegeman, while saying he was worried about bus assignments that would consider student ethnicity.

"It creates the potential for people to argue about if they've been correctly assigned," he said.

The plan as a whole is "intrusive," but he still considers it reasonable, he said.

"The district brought that on itself. The plaintiffs don't trust us. I'm not sure if the court trusts us," he said. "I think they have their reasons."

Board member Adelita Grijalva hoped the plan would specifically address the return of the district's disbanded Mexican American Studies program and felt the requirement for culturally relevant courses was too vague, she said.

"I was hoping it would give specific direction" for Mexican American Studies to return, she said.

The plan requires the district to help improve black and Hispanic students achievement by creating "socially and culturally relevant curriculum," including courses that center on the experiences of black and Latino communities. It must be in place by next school year.

The Mexican American Studies program was dismantled in January after the classes were banned by state law. It's unclear how the district would craft new classes to meet both the state restrictions and requirements of the proposed federal settlement.

Board member Michael Hicks said he disagreed with the new plan's requirement for culturally relevant courses.

"The idea is to intermingle children and desegregate," he said, not put them in separate classes.

Associated Press,

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