Newsletter Sign-Up
Newsletter Sign-Upview archive

Mendoza v. Tucson Unified School District

In 1974, MALDEF filed this desegregation case on behalf of Latino parents and students in Tucson, Arizona. The trial court found four years later that effects of past intentional segregation remained in the Tucson Unified School District, and the parties settled the case through a Stipulation of Settlement which required the District to eliminate the vestiges of past discrimination. The District was to proceed by employing specific remedies by employing specific remedies, including the reassignment of students through voluntary and mandatory busing and the closing of segregated schools. The Court retained jurisdiction to monitor compliance with the Stipulation.

Although the Stipulation contemplated compliance and final resolution within five years, thirty years later, the District had still failed to fully comply with the letter and the spirit of the Stipulation. The District filed a Petition for Unitary Status and Termination of Court Oversight in 2005, and the following year, following a thorough review of the district’s desegregation efforts, MALDEF opposed the District’s petition and continued to defend the Stipulation.

While the Petition for Unitary Status was pending, the District filed a Petition seeking court approval to open a middle school on the Davis Monthan Air Force Base in March 2007. MALDEF successfully objected to the Petition because of the potential adverse impact on minority students and schools in the surrounding neighborhood. In May 2007, the Court denied the District’s Petition to open the proposed middle school, and the following month, MALDEF filed an expert report demonstrating the District’s failure to follow its own racial/ethnic transfer policy. The intent of the policy was to improve the racial diversity of its schools, but the District’s violation of its own policy promoted segregation and racial isolation.

In August 2007, the Court issued an Interim Order, applying the Supreme Court’s decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (PICS), which limited the ability of school districts to take account of race to promote diversity and address racial isolation. Based on that decision, the Court in the Mendoza case declared the district’s racial/ethnic transfer policy unconstitutional. In September 2007, MALDEF filed a Request for Reconsideration, arguing that the PICS decision is not applicable to a school district, such as Tucson, that is under a continuing desegregation obligation. The Court denied MALDEF’s request to reconsider that particular ruling.

In October 2007, the District filed its Post-Unitary Plan, and MALDEF filed its reply to the plan in November 2007. In April 2008, the Court conditionally granted the Petition for Unitary Status pending final approval of a Joint Post-Unitary Plan.

On July 19, 2011, in Fisher/Mendoza v. Tucson Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision that terminated court jurisdiction over school desegregation policies in Tucson. MALDEF, along with co-counsel from law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, served as attorneys for the Mendoza plaintiffs. In its ruling, the appellate court panel cited the district court’s finding that the school district did not demonstrate good faith in how it currently provided equal opportunity to its minority students. The appellate court’s decision mandates continued court supervision for the district in its application of desegregation policies until the district can "demonstrate[e]—not merely promis[e]-its 'good-faith compliance... with the [Settlement Agreement] over a reasonable period of time,'" and remands the case to the district court for further proceedings in light of the opinion.  This is a major victory for the minority communities of Tucson after MALDEF has fought for more than 30 years to protect the rights of Latino and minority students in the district.