Another chapter in the saga of the scandal-plagued San Francisco School Board will open on Tuesday as voters weigh up whether to remove three members after a year of controversy that drew national attention.
For many parents, Tuesday’s special municipal election is a referendum on how the city’s school board has handled the pandemic.
The recall came amid frustration from parents, who said the board was wasting its time on matters unrelated to the coronavirus, instead of focusing on reopening San Francisco public schools. Most of the city’s 115 schools, which serve 50,000 students, were closed for over a year from March 2020 to August 2021, although nearby counties eventually reopened classrooms and private schools across the city held face-to-face classes.
“Unfortunately, our school board’s priorities have often been grossly missed,” said Mayor of London Breed in her endorsement of the recall effort. “San Francisco public school parents aren’t just voicing normal, everyday frustrations.”
While distance learning was a national problem, the school board stumbled upon self-inflicted controversies unique to San Francisco.
The board drew national attention to efforts to rename 44 schools that were part of a racial bill that critics said went too far. It has been criticized for historical inaccuracies as well as being a premature distraction while schools were closed and students were struggling with online learning. The plan was eventually scrapped.
After the name change debacle, the board faced several lawsuits, including one from the City of San Francisco, which took the dramatic step of suing the school district and the board to pressure them both to reopen classrooms more quickly.
Organizers say they would recall all seven board members if they could, but only three have served long enough to face a challenge: board chair Gabriela Lopez and two commissioners, Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga.
Collins came under fire for comments on Twitter that appeared to be anti-Asian. The 2016 tweets before her election to office said that Asian Americans were using “white supremacist” thinking to get ahead and were racist towards black students. Her emergence prompted the board to strip her of the Vice President title. Collins apologized for the tweets, saying they were taken out of context. She rejected requests for resignation.
Many Asian parents have already been angered by the board’s efforts to end merit-based admissions at the elite Lowell High School, where Asian students are the majority.
As a result, many Asian American residents were motivated to vote in a local election for the first time. The grassroots Chinese/API Voter Outreach Task Force, established in mid-December, said it registered 560 new Asian-American voters.
If any of the three board members are removed, Breed will appoint their temporary replacement.
Critics say the recall is a waste of time and money as the district faces a number of challenges, including a $125 million budget deficit and the need to replace retired Superintendent Vincent Matthews.