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Ethnic Studies To Return to Tucson in Court-Backed Desegregation Plan

Mexican-American studies will return to classrooms in Tucson's secondary schools in the fall after a federal judge approved the district's new plan to achieve greater racial balance in its schools.

But the pitched battle over teaching ethnic studies in Tucson may still not be settled even though U.S. District Judge David Bury has given the green light to the school district's Unitary Status plan, which is meant to bring an end to the decades-long desegregation effort in the Arizona city. A key part of that approved plan—which was written by Willis Hawley, the court-assigned special master—is to offer "culturally relevant" courses that focus on the history, experience, and culture of blacks and Latinos.

The school district shuttered the popular Mexican-American studies program a year ago after state officials said the courses violated a state law that forbids public schools from using curriculum that is designed for a particular ethnic group, advocates ethnic solidarity, or promotes resentment toward a race or group of people. State Superintendent John Huppenthal threatened to pull the plug on $15 million in state funding if the district didn't cancel the courses. Judge Bury indicated that state officials would still be free to enforce the state law if they believe the new ethnic studies courses are in violation.

Overall, the unitary status plan for Tucson—to be put in place over the next four years—focuses on reducing discrimination in how students are assigned to schools, how they are disciplined, and the quality of education they are offered. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, the federal court will decide whether the district has eliminated all vestiges of discrimination and desegregation.

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