Ok, Special Master, YOU name the Latino Students We Shouldn’t Welcome

A court-appointed special master may soon recommend that a federal judge yank the magnet status from five schools in our open-enrollment district because too many Latino students choose to attend them. My school is one of the five.

A court-appointed special master may soon recommend that a federal judge yank the magnet status from five schools in our open-enrollment district because too many Latino students choose to attend them. My school is one of the five.

The special master decided last spring that any magnet school with more than the negotiated 70% of its students coming from one ethnic group, or earning less than a B on Arizona’s school grading system, should lose its magnet title and funding.

An aside: Arizona has yet to even determine the grading scale by which schools will be judged, but it will be entirely based on our new Common Core standardized test that students took for the first time last year.  

The story has its roots in a 1974 court case. At that time the district was over 50 percent white, school boundaries were rigid, and families had no public school option outside of their neighborhood. This resulted in well-supported white schools, and poorly-supported black schools and brown schools.

Now, in 2015, my district is 64% Latino. Any student may attend any school. Magnet students are provided transportation; open-enrollment, non-magnet students must provide their own. In addition to that, students may attend nearly 60 charter schools, private schools, be home-schooled, and even attend schools outside the district’s boundaries.

An aside: A five-year old kindergarten student in 1974 is now 46 years old. An 18 year senior in 1974 is 59.

Blood boils. With all that competition some 470 magnet students (out of a school population of 784) vote with their feet and choose my school. They, combined with students who live in our predominately Latino neighborhood, give us a Latino school population of 79%. So, even If ALL of our non-Latino students are magnet students, then at least 305 of our Latino students chose my school over their neighborhood school.

That nine percent over the special master’s quota amounts to 71 Latinos too many.

A long aside: According to our district superintendent, HT Sanchez, the special master is from Maryland. He takes his cues from plaintiff representatives who have not had children in the district for decades and only one of whom still lives within its boundaries (and accordingly pays property taxes that pay for the magnet programs). Only one of the plaintiff representatives’ lawyers is local; the rest are from California. The district pays their legal costs which are over $1,000,000, so far. (My school’s magnet budget is just under $900,000.)

My school, in downtown Tucson, offers multiple opportunities to our students. In addition to our demanding International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum that includes a second language, physical education, and fine arts, our inquiry-based units lead students to discover their own approaches to learning as well as the global context in which our academic content lives. We also offer high school credit classes in algebra and Spanish. One of our teachers, Irma Ruth Weber- Guerro, was recently honored as Arizona IB Teacher of the Year. We were also just named and Arizona Civic Engagement School.

An aside: Our teachers have received hundreds of hours of professional development in our specialized curriculum, costing thousands of dollars, all of which will have been wasted if we lose our status.

Our extra curriculum program includes daily tutoring in academic content, weekend hikes to local areas of scientific interest, and Math Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) – an early outreach program whose mission is to prepare underrepresented groups for technical careers. Our sports program is one of the best in the city with our teams nearly always placing high, if not winning titles, in basketball and volleyball.

Maybe we’ve done our job too well. Maybe we shouldn’t be so welcoming to students of all ethnic groups. Certainly, I mean not one word in the previous two sentences, and they bring the tears to my eyes to even write them.

But I reserve pure anger for the special master. He hasn’t even been curious enough about my school to visit and talk to students, teachers, and parents, or go on a field trip, or watch a game. Rather, he earns thousands of dollars to hamstring our schools based on two data points – one of which he could get from three clicks of a mouse, the other of which doesn’t yet exist.

Well-played, Special Master, but if you’re so much smarter than the hundreds of Latino families who see my school as the best option in the district for their own children, perhaps you’d do us a favor and name the ones we should turn away.

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Since posting this I emailed the plaintiffs’ legal teams, asking for comments and offering to correct and apologize for any factual errors. The special master replied that the 70% was a negotiated number, not his.