Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/195647
Tucson's largest school district has begun strictly enforcing its open-enrollment and desegregation policies, and parents across the city are finding out, days before the school year begins, that their children can't attend their schools of choice.
The shift in policy came without an announcement from the Tucson Unified School District, though district officials began discussing the issue in late May, Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said Wednesday.
The total number of students affected is unknown and will likely remain so for weeks, said Richard Gastellum, TUSD's desegregation administrator.
The shift in policy stems from TUSD's interpretation of a recent federal ruling in its decades-old desegregation case.
Though class space and student transportation aren't likely to be affected by the shift, Pam Fine, TUSD's director of School Community Services, which oversees enrollments and transfers, said she was concerned with parental reaction to the policy when it was first discussed at the beginning of the summer. She's witnessing first-hand parent frustration now.
"People who aren't getting into their school of choice are leaving," she said, though there was no way to tell Wednesday how many students have withdrawn.
Over the past few days, Fine said her staff has dealt with hundreds of parents seeking transfers for their children.
Many are looking to enroll their elementary-school students near a day-care center.
She said high school students whose families moved during the summer won't be allowed to return to their previous schools unless they improve the ethnic balance of the schools.
Fine said she is afraid the switch might prompt high school students to drop out.
"TUSD, I think, is going to see a significant drop in its population," she said.
On May 8, U.S. District Judge David Bury denied TUSD's attempt to reopen a shuttered school on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Smith Elementary School.
The ruling stated that Smith would not only be racially identifiable with a majority population of Anglo students, but the reopening would drain Anglo students from Naylor Middle School, increasing its minority population. Naylor Middle has been labeled "failing" by the state.
Though Arizona is an open-enrollment state, TUSD's students may not transfer out of the district. Under TUSD's open-enrollment policy, students may transfer to other schools within the district, provided they meet various requirements.
Before Bury's ruling, TUSD concentrated its desegregation efforts only on magnet or desegregation schools, policy administrator Gastellum said. But neither Naylor nor Smith was designated as such.
Not long after the ruling, court documents revealed not only that 200 students, both Anglo and minority, who should have attended Naylor were allowed to transfer elsewhere, but also that districtwide, more than 1,300 elementary- and middle-school students may have been allowed to enroll in the wrong schools.
Many of the student transfers were occurring outside the scope of district policy and, in some cases, negatively affecting school diversity.
"A lot of these situations were handled casually, where parents would take their student to a school and a principal enrolled them," explained TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander.
"We've told all our principals they cannot handle open enrollment or magnet enrollment on-site. They need to go through the School Community Services office."
Since adherence to open- enrollment does not affect schools with bused students, Pfeuffer said, TUSD officials are not expecting any changes in student transportation needs.
Rudy Flores, the district's executive director of Engineering and Facilities, said there doesn't seem to be a need for more class space, outside already affected schools.
The stricter policy also should not affect the district's K-1 smaller-class-size initiative, Pfeuffer said.
The change is affecting neighboring Tanque Verde Unified School District. Officials there are seeking answers, as many of their high school students historically have attended TUSD's Sabino High School.
"We're trying to get information from TUSD to answer our parents' questions," said Tanque Verde Superintendent Tom Rogers.
TUSD's desegregation and transfer policy and its impact on Tanque Verde is on the agenda at tonight's Tanque Verde Governing Board meeting.
Twelve Tanque Verde students — freshmen, sophomores and seniors — weren't allowed to enroll at Sabino, Fine said. But 56 Tanque Verde students who enrolled before March 1 won't be affected by the policy change, Fine said.
TUSD students already enrolled will be grandfathered in, she said, but new enrollments will be strictly judged by Policy 5090, the district's ethnic balance plan.
"Anyone new coming in, we are following 5090 one hundred percent," Fine said.
Did You Know
TUSD has been under a federal desegregation order since 1978. Some key terms:
• Desegregation: To eliminate the vestiges of a racially dual — separate but equal — education system. It requires schools to use ethnicity as an admission factor to achieve a racial balance.
• Board Policy 5090: First adopted by TUSD's Governing Board in 1969, the policy states a student may transfer if the transfer improves ethnic balance of the receiving school and does not further imbalance the ethnic makeup of the home school.
• Open enrollment: Arizona is an open-enrollment state, which means parents may enroll children in schools outside their neighborhoods or outside the school districts in which they live. TUSD is not an open- enrollment school district because it's under a desegregation order.
• Attendance-zone school: Students are assigned to an attendance-zone school, or neighborhood school, based on their legal addresses.
● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.