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"The Desegregation Question" 1968-1983

Ten days after Dr. Thomas Lee became superintendent of Tucson Public Schools in 1968, the federal government, through the Office of Civil Rights of the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, stepped in and accused the district of illegal racial imbalance. Some people believed that Dr. Lee, because of his Arkansas upbringing, was a natural target. Others believed the charges were held until after Robert Morrow's retirement because of the high regard in which he was held in the city, state and nation for his earlier integration of African-American students. Whatever the truth, the attention of district administration for the next 10 years was directed to responding to the various phases and aspects of what has been lumped together in the collective district memory as "the desegregation lawsuit."

How did the problem begin?

The roots of the desegregation dilemma in Tucson Unified lie in the past. How did a school district which was a national model for desegregation before Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court become embroiled in such a controversy? How did a district which led the federal government to passage of federal funding for Bilingual Education become the focus of charges that Mexican-American children were being given an inferior education?

Certainly the neighborhood school plan contributed to the situation. For a century the schools were built where the children lived. Minority groups in Tucson for most of that century remained clustered in the area spreading out to the east and west along the Santa Cruz River. As the economic role played by Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans declined in relation to the surge of Anglo-Whites coming into Tucson, often the predominantly minority neighborhoods declined. The oldest schools were those attended by the largest minority populations. The newest schools with the latest educational designs were largely Anglo, built to match the eastward growth of the city in the post-war boom.

Efforts to instruct children who came to school with different native languages had been a challenge since 1867. The efforts of the lC program which had been in effect for 45 years were well-meant, but were often condemned and remembered with hostility in later years by many of the students the program was supposed to help. Maria Urquides remembered district practice forbidding the use of Spanish in the classroom and on the playground. Children were physically punished for speaking the language. Even Spanish songs must be translated to English. (46) In the '20s and '30s the assignment of "over-age" students to "retarded" classes tried to help students new to formal schooling. But as the decades passed, students were placed into the framework of "mental deficiency" defined by the inability to pass a culturally-biased test administered in many cases in a language with which the child was unfamiliar.

Ability grouping was an educational maxim for many years, again intended to help the students proceed at their own pace. The results often were self-fulfilling prophecies. Students in the lowest groups never moved up, and often dropped out of school before graduation. Expectations for minority students were based upon assumptions that they would not attend college, and therefore did not need college preparatory programs.

The school board minutes of the 1960s reveal various mentions of discontent in the African-American community with district staffing practices. NAACP leaders, while stating support for Dr. Morrow, expressed concerns about how personnel policies were applied. (47)

District responses to HEW concerns
The district established an ethnic transfer policy to encourage student transfers to other schools when both schools would improve in ethnic balance. The policy was designed to allow minority students to attend any school they wished, but would not permit a deliberate concentration of any ethnic group in a school. Changes in program at Miles and Roskruge attempted to reduce racial imbalance by attracting students from various parts of the city. Attendance lines were redrawn for westside schools for the same purpose. A Spanish language column summarizing TUSD Board minutes was placed in the Tucson Public Schools News in 1975.

In 1970 the school board approved a resolution which asked the Tucson City Council to stop putting low income housing units in minority population areas. They believed that practice increased racial isolation and de facto segregation.

A moratorium was placed on new school construction because continuing to follow residential growth would aggravate existing racial imbalance. Other struggles ensued over closing older, under-enrolled schools with high percentages of minority enrollments. An attempt to close Davis and University Heights Elementary Schools in 1973 met with strong community opposition, as did later efforts to close other schools. The embattled board pointed to the cost of repairing elderly buildings such as Davis; the local community declared its support for historic and culturally significant buildings. Mexican-American parents felt left out of the decision to close the schools, and asked why Anglo students were not bused to fill the empty spaces. The board left the schools open and made no further school closing decisions until the lawsuit was settled.

Bilingual education programs were another method used by the district since 1970 to answer Hispanic critics of education. In 1976, nearly 3,500 students were enrolled in Spanish English programs, mostly clustered in westside schools. A bilingual system of evaluation and tests was developed to more accurately place students in special programs. Bilingual and multicultural books and materials were placed in libraries and classrooms.

Teacher inservice programs, curriculum changes, and involvement of community groups promoted multicultural awareness. Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD) classes were started for African-American children with language differences. Increased recruitment efforts for minority and bilingual teachers resulted in placements across the district. By 1978, 20 percent of the district's teachers were minorities.

The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) through its San Francisco office first demanded in 1973 that the district desegregate its schools to achieve specific racial guidelines. HEW ordered that "no school within the district may have an enrollment of over 50 percent minority students. In addition, no school may have a minority enrollment of more than double the percentage of the districtwide enrollment of that minority.... In the case of Mexican-Americans, however, since double the percentage exceeds SO percent, the 50 percent figure takes precedence according to these guidelines." (48)

In the 1973-74 school year, there were 28 schools that were racially identifiable: Borton, Carrillo, Cavett, Davis, Drachman, Government Heights, Holladay, Lawrence, Manzo, Menlo Park, Mission View, Ochoa, Pueblo Gardens, Richey, Robison, Roosevelt, Rose, Safford, Tolson, Tully, University Heights, and Van Buskirk Elementary Schools. Also included were Safford, Spring, Utterback and Wakefield Junior High Schools, and Pueblo and Tucson High Schools.

The investigations generated school board candidates, both for and against desegregation, throughout the decade, and many changes occurred in administration, curriculum, and student services as a result.

The lawsuits are filed
Two lawsuits were filed on behalf of African-American and Mexican-American parents. Attorneys Ruben Salter, Jr., representing the N.A.A.C.P., and Michael O. Zavala, on behalf of Maria Mendoza, Theresa Trujillo and Alberto Sanchez, known as Mexican-Americans for Equal Education filed in federal court. The Mendoza suit contended that "the overwhelming majority of Chicano children continue to enter the first grade and graduate from the twelfth grade having attended inferior schools where they are the vast majority of students." The plaintiffs argued that by "discriminatory construction site selection and gerrymandered zone lines" the school district had perpetuated a tri-ethnic system. Further, they claimed that industrial and vocational education was emphasized at Chicano high schools and college prep courses were neglected. Physical plants at minority high schools were inferior. They claimed that no hot lunch programs were available at Ochoa and Mission View Schools. Chicano students had historically been assigned to mentally retarded classes in disproportionate numbers based on tests. There was a small number of Chicano teachers, administrators and staff, the plaintiffs charged. (49)

TUSD officials responded that while racial imbalance did exist in many schools, minority students attended every school in the district. Lee contended that housing patterns were to blame for racial imbalance, and said he would fight forced busing "all the way to the Supreme Court." A board resolution was passed April 16, 1974, stating:

Whereas, the Board of Trustees and the Board of Education while acknowledging racial imbalance within some Tucson School District I schools, denies all allegations of segregation within the schools and does not believe the District is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because student attendance assignments have not been predicated on race since 1951 which preceded the state repeal of segregation laws in June, 1951; and whereas, we have provided equal educational opportunities for all students; and whereas the citizens of our community through polls such as the 1969 poll conducted by Research Services, Inc., the DECA survey conducted by Pueblo High School in 1973, the Tucson Public School Purposes Committee Statement, 1972, and community meetings and individual contacts, have consistently indicated to the Board that the community prefers the neighborhood school concept; Be it therefore resolved that the Board of Trustees and the Board of Education of Tucson School District 1 is opposed to mandatory busing of school children for the purpose of eliminating racial minority identifiable schools without a court order.

A group of 26 parents mostly from schools in the northern and eastern sections of TUSD formed a group called Parents Rights on Busing and Education (PROBE), with attorney Ed Kahn as legal advisor. The group was concerned that wholesale forced busing of students would take place across the district to achieve desegregation. PROBE sought to represent Anglo-white parents in Tucson School District 1, in the desegregation suit. However, presiding Judge William C. Frey denied the group' s request after studying more than 500 letters by Anglo, non-Black parents who didn't want to be represented by PROBE.

As the case neared trial in early 1976, Judge Frey reported receiving some 1,400 letters from Mexican-American families asking to be excluded from representation by Mexican-Americans for Equal Education.

Other segments of the Tucson community also had their say. A University of Arizona professor charged that, per child, $41 more was spent on Anglo students than minority students. Lee contended the figure was caused by the lower salaries earned by many young and inexperienced bilingual teachers who were hired over the last few years to work in schools with bilingual programs. Funds from the Title I program for poverty areas were not included in the study. (50)

A week later, four Anglo mothers from eastside schools complained that their children were victims of reverse discrimination because they received no federal funds to help children with learning problems. (51) Others complained that the building moratorium was forcing their children to attend overcrowded schools.

Testimony was taken through the deposition process through much of 1976. One of the depositions received public attention when it was released to the Arizona Daily Star by an unidentified source. Herbert Cooper, a retired top administrator, gave emotional testimony about attendance area decisions:

Asked by the attorneys if the ethnic makeup of a neighborhood was ever considered in planning school locations, Cooper replied sharply: "No, sir, that site was purchased before there was a damn thing there but mesquite bush." Parents protested whenever transfer of students from one neighborhood to another was proposed, Cooper said. Even if the district moved the children to all-white schools, "they raised hell, " he said.... "God Almighty, look at what happened in Boston, that would be the worst thing in the world that could happen in this community, but it will happen and can happen. They didn't want to go into these schools.... You people know it better than I do, we are playing games around this table. As far as I was concerned, as far as the administration was concerned, we tried our damnedest to do the right thing by all children." (52)

The trial begins
January 12, 1977 the court trial began. Charges flew from all sides. Robert Morrow, Raul Grijalva, and Thomas Lee testified, as did various current and retired district administrators. Dr. Lee testified housing practices by private developers and government lending agencies had affected the composition of school neighborhoods. Plaintiffs argued the 1951 desegregation had mixed Black students only with Mexican-Americans. Testimony was concluded January 22, 1977, and Judge Frey took the case under advisement.

In February, 1977, a district report said to that date $655,000 was spent fighting the desegregation lawsuits, almost half of which was spent in the last 8 months. The largest amount, $347,831, went for legal fees, with the balance spent on district employees who collected materials for the district' s defense.

Black and Mexican-American parents criticized the district at a public meeting for "allowing a virtual collapse of serious discussion on educational issues important to them." (53)

In a related issue, Palo Verde High School faced a series of racially sensitive student incidents of violence which included the burning of a 2-foot high cross on the campus and "KKK" being scratched on a window. The principal, however, denied the incidents were actually racial confrontations. He called them "manhood-type business." Still, informed by the press of the incidents, the grand dragon of the California Knights of the KKK went to the school to offer his assistance. The principal broadcast over the public address system that the KKK would not be allowed on the campus of PVHS, to the applause of most students. (54)

Desegregation is ordered
June 5, 1978, Judge Frey ordered the September desegregation of nine schools on the northwest fringe of the school district. John Spring and Safford Junior High Schools, Cragin, Brichta, Jefferson Park, Roosevelt, Tully and University Heights Elementary Schools were originally ordered to be desegregated. The judge held that under the previous to 1951 state segregation law. Dunbar was the site of discrimination against Black students. He said the only then-present effects of such racial segregations were at Spring Junior High, Roosevelt, and University Heights. Frey found further segregative intent in the construction decisions made involving Tully and Brichta. Judge Frey focused on two categories of remedies. One was the elimination of vestiges of past statutory segregation flowing from the existence of Dunbar School. The other was remedying any present effects of past segregative acts.

The TUSD School Board announced that it would not appeal the order. Soleng Tom, board president, said, "Our attitude is a positive one. The ruling should not cause diversions or disruptions to education." Ed Kahn, attorney for PROBE, declared it was a victory for the anti-busing group. (55)

However, attorneys Zavala and Salter were not satisfied and called for additions of other schools. They filed motions asking that Borton, Holladay, Carrillo, Davis, Drachman, Cavett, Mission View, Ochoa, Pueblo Gardens and Richey Elementary Schools be included, and also Utterback Junior High.

Settlement proposed
A settlement was proposed which expanded the case beyond the initial nine schools, in a three phase program. Borton, Holladay, and Utterback would be desegregated by 1979 with minority enrollments below 50 percent. In the same year, the junior high schools fed by Cavett and Pueblo Gardens would have minority enrollments below 50 percent. A study would immediately be made to consider closing, consolidating or maintaining Carrillo, Davis and Drachman. In fall 1978, a pilot intensive phonics program would be tried for a class of Mexican-American first graders. University Heights, Roosevelt and Spring would be closed. Sabino Junior High would eventually be closed and merged with Sabino High School. In related issues, teachers and counselors in all affected schools would receive cultural sensitivity training, especially addressing low expectations for minority students. Uniform districtwide standards for student suspension and expulsion would be developed. A program for Standard English as a Second Language (SESD) would be available to African-American students.

At the end of the 19-hour court hearing over the proposed settlement, Frey noted that he heard "unanimous or near unanimous" opposition to the plan from the people whom it was designed to benefit. The Citizen quoted Frey, "It would be rather ironic if those who win the lawsuit wind up with the short end of the stick with a remedy they don't want and which may not be beneficial." A Yaqui representative told Judge Frey segregation was preferable to attending an Anglo school, as they feared Yaqui students would drop out if forced into a "hostile and alien" environment. (56)

Desegregated school begins
School started peacefully in September, 1978, with no reported incidents. However 20 Mexican-American and Black students were held out for a short time by their parents in a protest, and put into a temporary school at the El Rio Center. The district empaneled a 47-member citizens' committee, known as the District Committee for Facilities Utilization, to study school circumstances and make recommendations to the board for implementation of the court order. Chair of the committee was Warren Rustand, a local businessman with strong political connections. Other prominent committee members included William Estes, Jr., Ruben Romero, Annie Laos, George Borozan, Johnny Bowens, Robert Horn, Henry Jacome, Jr., Helen Schaefer, Arnold Elias, Alex Garcia, and Wayne Moody. (57)

Judge Frey was willing to allow the committee time to develop a plan for the second phase of desegregation which would meet community needs. Phase 2 would be a more comprehensive plan involving more schools than the initial nine ordered desegregated by the judge.

Judge William C. Frey died in February, 1979, from a heart attack while vacationing in Honduras. Many viewed his death as partially caused by the strain imposed by the desegregation lawsuit. Judge Mary Ann Richey assumed responsibility for the desegregation case.

Phase 2 is designed
The minority communities protested that the options being considered in Phase 2 would result in minorities being bused for longer periods than Anglos. Attorney Zavala warned, "The district must guard against allowing the development of a subtle form of tracking through lower expectations for minority children placed in high-achievement schools, as well as against favored treatment for Anglos sent to previously minority schools." (58)

May 2, 1979, Judge Richey approved plans to bus about 1,000 students in the 1979-80 school year. The "magnet school" plan would be tried at Borton and Holladay. Borton would become a primary magnet program for grades kindergarten through third grade, while about 65 fourth through sixth graders would be bused to Kellond Elementary. Places would be available for 100 Anglo voluntary transfers to Borton. If the number required was not achieved by August 15, Kellond students would be involuntarily bused there. Meanwhile, Holladay would become a partner intermediate magnet program. Approximately 160 Holladay first-third graders would be bused to Peter Howell and Fort Lowell Elementary Schools, to open about 200 slots for fourth through sixth grade students. If the magnet was not successful, students from Bonillas, Corbett, Duffy, Lineweaver, Myers, Wheeler, and Wright would be involuntarily bused.

In addition to the elementary schools involved, 350 seventh and eighth graders would be bused from Townsend and Carson Junior Highs to Utterback, while 220 Utterback students would be bused to Townsend. All parties to the suit agreed to the proposals which Judge Richey declared "fair and constitutional."

Magnet schools are planned
Townsend, Utterback, Borton, Kellond, Holladay, Fort Lowell and Peter Howell were declared "new schools," with a requirement that all employees, administrative, certified, and classified, be required to reapply for their positions. Those who did not wish to work in the settings proposed, or who were not selected, were given non-punitive transfers to other schools within the district. Those who applied faced rigorous questioning by a panel of administrators, parents, and lawyers to determine who was best suited to work in an experimental desegregated setting.

While extra funds were budgeted for all Phase 2 schools, the magnet schools in particular received benefits beyond those a regular school received. Class size limits were established at 25:1, lower than elsewhere in the district, and teacher aides were to be in each class. Full time physical education and fine arts specialists and a full time librarian and library clerk would be placed in each school to provide extra educational benefits for students. Bilingual and SESD programs would be provided. An after-hours student care extended day program would be provided to attract working parents. The district would provide door-to-door bus transportation. The magnet schools were immediately refurbished, with fresh paint, carpeting, and new instructional equipment.

The promise of smaller classes and extra programs were sufficient to make the magnets attractive to the Anglo community. Both Borton and Holladay opened on a completely voluntary basis for the extended community. Ironically, those minority children who lived in the two schools' immediate neighborhoods had no choices. They were required to attend the school to which the court had assigned them. The carrot attached to the stick was the promise that the minority students would receive improved educational opportunities at these required schools.

A September 7, 1979 Citizen editorial cheered the district efforts: "There are at least two important lessons in this. One is that ethnic prejudices are learned, and that the best way to keep them from being learned is to integrate schools early. Another is that, faced with a big job to do in a hurry, Tucsonians can and do cooperate to get it done. This week's opening of school represents a real victory for the whole community."

TUSD received notice a month later that it would have a grant for $1,861,780 from the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to spend that year to "assist in the process of eliminating, reducing, or preventing minority group isolation" and "to aid in overcoming the educational disadvantages of minority group isolation."

Phase 3 is created
The following year, on a 3-2 board vote, agreement was reached upon creating three new magnets as part of Phase 3. Davis was established was a K-6 bilingual magnet. Drachman and Carrillo were paired as primary and intermediate magnet programs. The Star editorial staff praised the action in a September, 1980 editorial: "..The plan means the district will not raze any of the old neighborhood schools and will renovate them to meet current safety standards. It is a triumph for Tucson 's aging barrios and their strong tradition of neighborhood closeness. Best of all, the plan offers the hope that minority children with alarmingly low performance records will improve. That was the original intent of the desegregation lawsuit." Surprising the board minority of Mitchell Vavich and Soleng Tom, the three schools filled their Anglo quotas voluntarily.

The district created a department of Black Studies and SESD to provide courses in Black history and culture for the nearly 3,000 African-American students in the district. The department's name was changed to African-American Studies at the end of the 1980s, reflecting the change in preferred terminology.

In 1982, Safford Junior High School was approved as a Math and Engineering Magnet to reduce the minority enrollment from 93 percent to 69 percent. The magnet was designed to include computer education as one of its attractions.

In 1983 Tucson High School was designated a magnet high school in basic skills, with specialized programs in computer science, math and science. The following year performing arts, industrial arts, and cooperative education would be added.

The school board decided not to ask for dissolution of the court order on desegregation in 1983. Although the original order permitted the district to petition the court for release from the order, school board members felt the district's commitment could be better ensured by remaining under the court's jurisdiction.

Critics have pointed out that even with the changes in school attendance areas and the development of the magnet program, significant differences still remain in student achievement between minority and majority students. Complaints that only Anglos could choose to attend the first magnets were mitigated by the opening of other magnets such as Booth-Fickett, Bonillas and BCMS.

Although the chapter on desegregation closes here at the end of the initial plan, in fact the school district continues to the present time to make decisions which are specifically driven by the requirements of desegregation.


(46)Susan Knight, "Maria Urquides -- 46-year teacher ahead of her time" Arizona Daily Star April, 1986.

(47)Tucson Public School District 1 School Board Minutes, November 16, 1965 and April 19, 1966.

(48)"HEW vs. District 1 -- Conflict with Office of Civil Rights Continues," TPS News Vol 15, No. 4, May 1974.

(49)Mendoza, Trujillo and Sanchez v. Tucson Public School District 1.

(50)"District 1's spending on minorities debated" Arizona Daily Star April 21, 1976.

(5l)Kathleen MacDonald, "Four eastside mothers charge reverse school discrimination" Arizona Daily Star April 28, 1976.

(52)Gail Yoakum, "Former aide says District 1 'didn't integrate' in the '50s" Arizona Daily Star March 14, 1976.

(53)Gerald Merrell, "Minority Groups criticize District 1 on Palo Verde, Pueblo issues" Tucson Citizen March 16, 1977.

(54)John Woestendiek, "Palo Verde principal bars Klan from campus" Arizona Daily Star April 16, 1977.

(55)David Carter, "District plans no appeal of desegregation order" Arizona Daily Star June 77 1978.

Gerald Merrell and Karen C. Casto, "Plaintiffs may appeal desegregation ruling," Tucson Citizen June 7, 1978.

(56)Ben MacNitt. "Frey hints plan won't work" Tucson Citizen August 10, 1978.

(57)Gerald Merrell, "Panel to help form desegregation plan" Tucson Citizen October 18, 1978.

(58)Larry Fowler, "Desegregation changes urged by lawyer here" Tucson Citizen March 2, 1979.

(59)Mary M. Niez, "Computers aid for pupils who aren't average" Tucson Citizen November 24, 1983.