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Photo: AZPM

TUSD, Tucson's largest school district, has closed nine schools in recent years over declining enrollment, budget constraints.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has filed a federal court objection to the proposed closures of 11 Tucson Unified School District campuses.

MALDEF, as it is known, represents Latino plaintiffs and is asking the court for more time before allowing the district to go forward with the closures.

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Because the district is operating under a court desegregation order, it must get U.S. District Court Judge David Bury's approval before closing any schools.

The objection says Tucson Unified is causing disruption to thousands of students and that the criteria used to chose which schools to close was flawed, according to court documents.

“Any type of change to the number of schools or the location of school impacts the demographics and the racial concentration of the various schools,” said Nancy Ramirez with MALDEF.

TUSD filed a response to the objection saying allegations about purposely keeping schools non-racially diverse are untrue. TUSD students are assigned to a school within an attendance boundary but have the opportunity to enroll in any other school in TUSD or any other school district, according to court documents.

John Pedicone, TUSD’s superintendent said he was not surprised to see the objection.

“It is consistent with their concern about the way in which the district needs to operate and has operated historically,” Pedicone said. “The objection focuses on the plaintiffs’ feeling that any school closures risk the control they believe they need to have over ethnic balance from school to school.”

The objection said if the judge allows the closures to go forward, he should deny TUSD’s request to close Howenstine Magnet High School, a small high school in midtown Tucson with a large population of special education students.

“They are not being given appropriate attention in terms of ensuring that they will continue with the types of support that they are receiving at Howenstine,” she said.

In TUSD’s response to the objection district lawyers said Howenstine is substantially under-enrolled and is causing the district loss of more than $700,000 per year.

It’s unknown when the judge will make a decision on the case.

This decades-long issue began in 1974, when parents of Mexican American and African American students sued the Tucson Unified School District for what they called discrimination against their children.

The parents were represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Mexican Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The federal government intervened in 1976 in what became known as the Fisher/Mendoza case. A few years later, the parties reached a settlement requiring TUSD to go under a desegregation order monitored by the U.S. Justice Department’s Unitary Status Plan.

The 1978 desegregation order remained in effect until 2009, when TUSD filed a petition with a local district court to terminate federal oversight of the district.

"The court has acknowledged that the district will operate for the advocacy and equal advantage of every child," TUSD officials said at the time. But the plaintiffs in the original desegregation case appealed that decision and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district's status and appointing a special master to develop a new Unitary Status Plan.

The newly proposed Unitary Status Plan aims to provide equal educational opportunities to African American and Latino students in TUSD in the areas of discipline, transportation, student assignment, family engagement, extracurricular activities and accountability.

The schools set to close next academic year are: Howenstine High School, Carson Middle School, Corbett Elementary School, Cragin Elementary School, Fort Lowell/Townsend K-8, Hohokam Middle School, Maxwell Middle School, Menlo Park Elementary School, Schumaker Elementary School, Brichta Elementary School, Lyons Elementary School, and Wakefield Middle School.