SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Another chapter opens in the saga of San Francisco’s scandal-plagued school board Tuesday as voters weigh in on whether to recall three members after a year of controversy that captured national attention.
For many parents, Tuesday’s special municipal election is a referendum on how the city’s school board managed the pandemic.
The recall effort stemmed from frustration felt by parents who say the board wasted its time on matters unrelated to the coronavirus instead of focusing on reopening San Francisco public schools. Most of the city’s 115 schools that serve 50,0000 students were closed for over a year, from March 2020 to August 2021, even as nearby districts eventually reopened classrooms and private schools across the city held in-person classes.
“Sadly our school board’s priorities have often been severely misplaced,” Mayor London Breed said in her endorsement of the recall effort. “San Francisco’s public school parents aren’t just voicing normal, commonplace frustrations.”
While distance learning was a national problem, the school board stumbled through self-inflicted controversies that were unique to San Francisco.
The board drew national attention for an effort to rename 44 schools that was part of a racial reckoning critics said went too far. It was criticized for historical inaccuracies as well as being an untimely distraction while schools were shut and students struggled with online learning. The plan was ultimately scrapped.
After the renaming debacle, the board faced multiple lawsuits, including one from the city of San Francisco, which took the dramatic step of suing the school district and the board to pressure 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 President Gabriela Lopez and two commissioners, Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga.
Collins came under fire for comments made on Twitter that appeared to be anti-Asian. The tweets, which dated to 2016 before her election to office, said Asian Americans used “white supremacist” thinking to get ahead and were racist toward Black students. Their emergence prompted the board to revoke her title of vice president. Collins apologized for the tweets and said they were taken out of context. She dismissed calls to resign.
Many Asian parents were already 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 have been motivated to vote for the first time in a municipal election. The grassroots Chinese/API Voter Outreach Task Force, which formed in mid-December, said it registered 560 new Asian American voters.
If any of the three board members are recalled, Breed will appoint their interim replacements.
Critics say the recall effort 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 retiring Superintendent Vincent Matthews.