San Francisco School Board Is YOU'RE FIRED, For Sucking We Guess!
The recall election for three members of the seven-member San Francisco School Board involved a complex set of issues involving COVID and remote learning, how and when to reopen schools as the pandemic drags on, accusations of incompetence and misplaced priorities, and the fraught racial politics of "merit based" admission to the city's most selective high school. All three of the members, school board President Gabriela López, Vice President Faauuga Moliga, and Commissioner Alison Collins, lost their seats on the board. San Francisco Mayor London Breed will appoint three temporary members to the school board to serve until this fall's general election.
As with the GOP's failed attempt to recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom last year, the school board recall raised a lot of questions about California's recall election law, especially since a whopping $2 million flooded into the pro-recall campaign, while the total financial support for all three of the board members combined came to just $86,000 — all for a recall election just nine months before the general election in November.
To be sure, there were very real issues in the race. The vote totals in favor of the recalls were overwhelming, with upwards of 70 percent of voters choosing to remove all three board members, so that reflects some real frustrations with the board.
However, it's also really friggin' telling that Republicans and rightwing media are trumpeting the San Francisco recall as vindication of their yearlong strategy to stir up culture war panic about school masks, "critical race theory" and "parental rights," and as a harbinger of victory in the midterms. Look at this shit from the Daily Mail on Twitter:
Similar, Ben Shapiro's The Wire, But Racist exults that suddenly, San Franciscans have spurned progressivism: "‘Revolt’ Against Progressive Agenda: San Francisco Voters Recall Three School Board Members."
Over on the Twitters, Jeremy Owens, the San Francisco bureau chief for MarketWatch, said nah, don't be fooled, because this election wasn't about wokeness, or about COVID restrictions in general, but about this particular San Francisco school board "being bad at its ENTIRE job."
For instance, there was indeed a lot of coverage of the board's decidedly weird approach to renaming schools: Where other communities were trying to undo old Confederate propaganda and rename schools that had been named for Robert E. Lee or Nathan Bedford Forrest, San Francisco's board appeared to be trying to live out some rightwing parody of lefty wokeness by insisting on eliminating George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and relying on a deeply flawed process to do it.
Worse, the board seemed to devote an inordinate amount of time to that instead of on educating kids during the pandemic; eventually, the effort was scrapped.
Another flashpoint for voter anger, as LA Times columnist Mark Z. Barabak writes, came when the board
moved to end merit-based admissions to Lowell High School, one of the city’s most sacred institutions, where Asian American students are the majority. (The move catalyzed the city’s Asian American community, long an important force in San Francisco politics.)
Old comments surfaced from Collins, in which she stated Asian Americans used “white supremacist” thinking to get ahead and were racist toward Black students. She apologized, then sued the school district and five fellow board members, seeking $87 million in damages, for removing her title as vice president. A judge summarily rejected the case.
There seems to have been a general sense that the school board was, in very local ways, just fucking up far too much in the middle of the pandemic. While other nearby cities, like Oakland, were getting schools reopened this year (and doing so safely), San Francisco schools couldn't manage to get kids tested. It's not that parents were angry about mask mandates; they were angry about what looked like incompetence.
That said, we really would like to know more about where all that money for the recall came from. Last month, Collins told Dave Weigel,
“When there's this much money behind a special election, it's worth looking at who's behind it,” Collins said in an interview. “I've never seen this type of energy and this much money involved in a special election. It's an opportune moment for folks who want to privatize public education, because right now, teachers are really suffering. It's an educational emergency right now.”
From everything we've read, this was very much a local fight about the direction of the schools, but by Crom the Right is absolutely determined to frame it as a repudiation of progressivism — in a city where 85 percent of the vote went to Joe Biden in 2020.
But Democrats should be ready for a lot more insufferable rightwing culture-warring over schools — and should be damn vigilant it doesn't lead to a rightwing takeover of school boards.
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