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Fisher v. United States

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 31, 2016

Roy and Josie Fisher, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor,
v.
Anita Lohr, et al., Defendants, and Sidney L. Sutton, et al., Defendants-Intervenors, Maria Mendoza, et al., Plaintiffs, United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor,
v.
Tucson Unified School District Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RELATING TO FISHER OBJECTIONS TO SPECIAL MASTER'S RECOMMENDATION TO APPROVE THE RECONFIGURATION OF GRADES AT BORMAN K-5 TO K-8

          DAVID C. BURY, Senior District Judge.

         Overview

         On May 11, 2016, pursuant to a Court Order (Doc. 1929), the Special Master filed a Report and Recommendation in response to TUSD's defense of its proposal to create a middle school option at Borman Elementary school on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. In that R&R, the Special Master recommended that the Court approve the District's proposal. On May 25, 2016, the Fisher plaintiffs filed an objection to the Special Master's proposal asking the Court to reject the Special Master's recommendation, deny the District's request for approval of a middle school grade configuration at Borman K-5 school, and direct the District to develop a viable proposal for "effecting immediate and substantial improvement in the integration and improved academic achievement of Roberts-Naylor K-8" students. See Exhibit A.

         Analysis

         The core assumption in the Fisher plaintiffs' objection is that substantial improvements in the quality of education at Roberts-Naylor would draw a significant number of white students who "graduate" from Borman to Roberts-Naylor thereby integrating the school by the criteria defining "integration" in the USP. Roberts-Naylor is unique among the District schools in that its failure to meet the integration standards is because the number of African American students exceeds by about two to three percent the proportion of African American students that would define the school as integrated.

         The assertions made by the Fisher plaintiffs can be examined by addressing three questions:

1. Would reconfiguring Borman as a K-8 school draw students away from Roberts-Naylor, thereby noticeably affecting the number of students in the District who attend an integrated school?
2. What are the motivations of families whose students now attend Borman and who might attend Roberts-Naylor?
3. Could the academic offerings at Roberts-Naylor be sufficiently strengthened so as to alter "current patterns of choice" thereby increasing the opportunities that Roberts-Naylor students (including former Borman students) have to experience an integrated education?

         Would the Addition of Middle Grades at Borman Draw Students Away from Roberts-Naylor?

         It would not. For security reasons, only those students who come from military families or families where one or more of the adults is employed on the base can attend Borman. The District reports that only two students who formally attended Borman now attend Roberts-Naylor in grades seven and eight (the grades the Special Master asked about). The vast majority of former Borman students now attend Sonora Science Academy, an on-base charter school.

         How Would a Borman K-8 School Affect "Patterns of Choice"?

         The Fisher plaintiffs argue that the District inappropriately uses current choice (enrollment) patterns to estimate the effects on integration. In most cases when new options for enrollment are introduced - as would have been the case in the creation of a middle school at Sabino High School - families will have significantly different considerations from those upon which they base current decisions about where their students would enroll. But the proposed Borman reconfiguration is unique because of (1) restrictions on on-base enrollment and (2) military families generally prefer on-base schools, which tend to be socioeconomically diverse, promise order and safety, and are the schools their neighbors or coworkers attend. This common disposition applies to the Borman instance.

         The District concludes that the principal factors that influence patterns of choice for Borman families do not include the quality of academic programs. While the survey upon which they base this conclusion is suspect because of low response, the conclusion seems to have facial validity. Only a handful of former Borman students attend TUSD schools for grades 6 to 8 even though TUSD's Vail Middle School, which is relatively close to the entrance to the Base, is a more ...


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