(CN) – The 9th Circuit on Tuesday revived a 37-year-old desegregation lawsuit in Arizona, reversing and remanding a Federal Court’s ending of its oversight of the Tucson Unified School District without proof that the district had made a strong effort to purge traces of past discrimination.
African-American and Mexican-American students sued Tucson Unified for discrimination in 1974. The parties settled in 1978, and since that time the district has been subject to a federal desegregation decree.
After reviewing TUSD’s progress in 2007, U.S. District Judge David Bury ruled that it had complied fully with its desegregation duties and withdrew the court’s oversight.
But that move was premature, as Bury also “concluded that the school district failed the good faith inquiry and having raised significant questions as to whether the district had eliminated the vestiges of racial discrimination to the extent practicable,” according to a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit.
While Bury acknowledged he was “hard pressed without spending hours upon hours of rutting through the record to piece together the facts it need[ed] to support a finding of [full compliance],” he nonetheless “announced [his] intention ‘to close this case and return [the district] schools to the state because oversight and control will be more effective placed in the hands of the public with the political system at its disposal to address any future issues,” according to the 9th Circuit.
Bury’s ruling violated years of precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in desegregation cases, the 9th Circuit found.
“Decades of Supreme Court precedent dictate that, where good faith lacks and the effects of de jure segregation linger, public monitoring and political accountability do not suffice,” Judge Sidney Thomas for the unanimous three-judge panel.
“We reverse the court below and order it to maintain jurisdiction until it is satisfied that the school district has met its burden by demonstrating – not merely promising – its ‘good-faith compliance … with the [settlement agreement] over a reasonable period of time.'”
Thomas added that given the district’s failure to show good faith, it has much to prove before the District Court can let it off the hook.
“To be sure, District Courts possess ample discretion to fashion equitable relief in school desegregation cases, to tailor that relief as progress is made, and to cede full control to local authorities at the earliest appropriate time,” Thomas wrote. “Yet under our controlling precedent, the District Court’s extensive findings as to the school district’s lack of good faith show that that time has not yet come to pass for Tucson.”
Tucson Unified has been the center of recent controversy over its Mexican-American studies program, which the Arizona Legislature wants to kill as divisive and un-American. That quarrel also is being fought out in federal court.