30 Years of Unfinished Tucson School Desegregation

Tucson High School
Tucson High School

For 30 years the Tucson, Arizona school district has operated under a court-supervised desegregation plan following a 1978 settlement of claims that the district engaged in intentional racial segregation of schools.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Tucson judge’s decision to terminate his oversight of the district’s desegregation obligations, even though the judge thought the school district had not acted in good faith to comply.

The appeals court reinstated Judge David Bury’s jurisdiction over the case and said he had to maintain supervision of the schools until he was satisfied the district was operating in good faith.

Under terms of the settlement in 1978, the school district was to cooperate with parents to develop student assignment policies, eliminate discrimination in faculty assignment and adopt policies on bilingual education, testing and discipline.  The deal required the district to file annual reports on enrollment by race and ethnicity and detailing the program changes.

Although the school could petition the court to end supervision five years after the terms were in operation, the district did not do so for 25 years and then only after the judge requested it.

The trial judge had agreed to end supervision after concluding that it would take him “hours upon hours of rutting through the record” to find facts supporting the schools achieved “unitary” status (in effect, were desegregated) but he announced that to close the case he thought oversight would be more effective in the hands of the public and political system.

The 9th Circuit ordered Bury to take the case back and make sure the district has adhered faithfully to its obligations.

 Case: Fisher v. Tucson Unified School District, No. 10-15124

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