Looking back at the school desegregation case he took as a young lawyer, Rubin Salter Jr. sees a pile of wasted money and squandered opportunities. After almost four decades in court and nearly $1 billion in public spending, little has changed for the black children whose right to a good education he had labored to defend.
They are still among the lowest-performing students in the Tucson Unified School District, still among the most likely to be suspended or to be assigned to special-education programs and still among the least likely to join groups for gifted students. They are, as Mr. Salter put it, “still getting the short end of the stick.”
A federal judge approved a plan on Wednesday intended to lift a longstanding desegregation order that has served as a reason and an excuse for a lot that has gone wrong in the district over the past decades: shrinking enrollment, sliding graduation rates and insistent dropout rates.
After all these years, Mr. Salter, whose family left Mississippi in the 1950s to escape segregation, said he no longer harbors hope for integration. One reason is that the district, overwhelmingly white when he began working on the case in 1974, is now largely made up of Latino students, who are also a party in the litigation and perform just as poorly as their black counterparts. Another is that parameters set long ago by the Supreme Court prevent the busing of students beyond a school district’s boundaries as a remedy for segregation.