Justices rule out race in schools' diversity
Arizona Daily Star
'Narrow' issues addressed don't apply to district
By George B. Sánchez
Tucson, Arizona | Published:
Thursday's Supreme Court ruling rejecting race-based school assignments will
have little effect on Tucson's largest school district, according to the
attorneys involved in TUSD's decades-old desegregation case.
the ruling may help shape the Tucson Unified School District in the future
when it's released from the desegregation order, thus achieving unitary
status, attorneys said little will change for now.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, the head of the Arizona
Department of Education, said the Supreme Court's ruling will not affect
other Arizona districts, either.
ruling came from cases involving school districts in Louisville, Ky., and
Seattle that voluntarily used race as a factor in student enrollment.
court split, 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing the ruling.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent that was joined by the court's three
liberals. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy went along with the majority, writing a
concurring opinion in which he said race may be a component of school
district plans to achieve diversity though he said Seattle and Jefferson
County went too far.
Heather Gaines, a local attorney representing TUSD in its desegregation
case, foresaw little impact on the district.
sense at the moment is that this decision has no immediate impact on TUSD,
the (desegregation) case, and our student-assignment policies because we are
under a court order and therefore have to consider race in student
assignment," she said. "At such time that we do achieve unitary status, this
decision will guide our student assignment policies."
opinion was shared by the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case.
legal issue in the Seattle and Louisville cases is whether a public school
that had either not operated legally segregated schools or has been found in
unitary status may consider race in making student assignment. With respect
to TUSD, neither of those factors exist," said Cynthia Valenzuela, an
attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who
represents the Latino plaintiffs in TUSD's desegregation case.
district has operated legally segregated schools and has not achieved
unitary status. Therefore, the narrow rulings in today's case have no affect
Salter, a local attorney representing black plaintiffs, agreed with
Valenzuela and Gaines.
would think that where it could matter is if TUSD were in a negotiating mood
and the parties got together to come up with a student-assignment plan," he
said. "I believe Justice Kennedy's dissent gave guidance to parties in a
post-unitary deal with student assignment."
Salter quoted a summary of the ruling that read: "To the extent that
Roberts' opinion can be interpreted to foreclose the use of race in any
circumstance, I disagree with that reasoning."
explained that race-conscious decisions could be made in regard to strategic
site selection for new schools, redrawing attendance zones, creating new
programs, such as magnet schools, and attracting students and staff.
has been under a court order to desegregate since 1978. The order followed a
class-action lawsuit filed by Latino and black parents.
the order, TUSD agreed to bus students across the city as well as create
magnet schools to racially integrate the district. By creating magnet
schools with specific entrance criteria and prescribed ethnic balances, TUSD
sought to entice some of its top students to leave their neighborhoods.
December, TUSD attorneys sought a settlement and an end to the case. Salter
and MALDEF rejected the proposal, which is confidential.
Toward the end of the 2006-07 school year, TUSD unveiled a proposed return
to neighborhood schools if the desegregation order was lifted.
the while, attorneys and administrators anxiously awaited an opinion on the
Supreme Court case, publicly noting that it could affect TUSD's plans.
said the ruling doesn't apply to Arizona because, as far as he knows, no
public school uses race as an enrollment factor.
Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.