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Tucson desegregation plan gets flak from overseer

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The latest desegregation plan adopted by the Tucson Unified School District has been rejected as inadequate by an expert appointed to oversee the plan by a federal judge.

The overseer said a plan on magnet schools approved by the district's board in September limits options for meaningfully achieving racial balance in the district's schools. Special master Willis Hawley said it will, in fact, have little or no impact, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The board rejected a magnet plan created by the Hawley before adopting its own. Hawley's plan would have eliminated popular programs at several schools.

Hawley has argued the district needs to "bite the bullet" and eliminate several magnets so that new ideas can be pursued.

Efforts to create a racially balanced school system in Tucson date to 1974. The district has been under a court desegregation order for decades after parents of Hispanic and black students filed class-action lawsuits. An agreement to end court oversight approved by a federal judge in February included a four-year plan to desegregate the district.

Magnet schools focus on a specific academic area or learning environment and are designed to encourage students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to come together outside their neighborhoods. But three magnet schools that were spared by the district are each more than 85 percent Hispanic. A school is considered integrated when it has less than 70 percent of one ethnic group enrolled.

District administrators created their own plan after hearing pleas from parents who spoke of generations of families attending the same school and the values that their programs promoted.

Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said the existing 70 percent standard for integration is hard to achieve with the city's current racial makeup.

"When the suit was filed nearly 40 years ago, minority student groups comprised between 20 to 25 percent of total student enrollment in TUSD," he wrote in a recent memo.

Latino students make up 64 percent of the school population and African-American students account for 7 percent.

The district hadn't yet responded to Hawley's latest letter. Hawley has agreed not to complain to the judge until a new comprehensive magnet plan is created next year.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

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