San Francisco School Board Begins Reversing Policies Made By Pre-Recall Board

During a San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, the board decided to reverse several policies made in 2020 and 2021 before the historical school board recall earlier this year.

In a 4-3 vote, the board decided to reverse the two-year-old decision to install a lottery-based admission decision to the elite Lowell High School, returning it to a grades-based system. In another vote on Wednesday, a 2019 board decision to cover up a mural at George Washington High School that depicts past wrongs in California that some had considered to be racist was also reversed, allowing the mural to be displayed once again.

The pre-recall decision controversy dates back to 2018, when San Francisco voted in three new school board members: Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga, and Gabriela Lopez. While initially praised for diversifying the board, the three soon became notorious for supporting decisions that outraged the public. In 2019, one of their first major policies that caused scrutiny was their decision to cover up the mural at George Washington High School. The image in question, of George Washington at Mt. Vernon looking down over black and Native American slaves, had been painted by famed San Francisco frescoist Victor Arnautoff in 1936 as part of a series of murals in the school showing his life dele, both good and bad, to give a full picture of the first president However, with some students and parents calling it offensive, the board decided to cover it up with little public input.

The next year, with the pandemic in full swing, the board decided to switch Lowell High School from grades-based to merit-based admissions due to a lack of data coming in from remote-learning classes in a 5-2 vote. Many felt that Lowell, a top-tier high school in San Francisco, was going to see it’s status fall as a result of academic-based admissions policies being reneged. Public outcry ensued, with the board voting again to extend it in 2021 despite legal challenges.

However, by this time, a recall effort against the three members elected in 2018 was mounting. Those decisions, as well as a growing deficit, a growing number of parents and citizens angry about the School Board’s delays in reopening schools following the COVID-19 pandemic, going ahead with a controversial school renaming plan, and racist tweets being found to have been made by then-VP Collins, amongst many others, led to a successful signature drive for a recall election against them.

While the board members made efforts to stop the recall tide against them, including stopping the controversial school renaming plan, decisions came too little, too late. In February, Collins, Moliga, and Lopez were all bold with over 70% of San Francisco opposing them. The next month, Mayor Breed chose the three board member replacements, including one new board member having been heavily involved in the recall effort.

New board members, new decisions

With a new board, and all eyes on them and Mayor Breed, things started off quietly after the fanfare of the announcement, but quickly ramped up in the last few months. With the majority of the public still incensed over the mural and Lowell admissions decisions, the new board began the summer by reversing both decisions. Following Wednesday’s vote, the mural is expected to be seen in full once again, while merit-based admissions are expected to return to Lowell beginning in the 2023-2024 school year. While lawsuits may be brought up, the boards decision still marks a remarkable change in policy after only a few months.

“Progressive policies can now be said to have hit a peak in San Francisco in the late 2010’s,” explained San Francisco-based policy advisor Sharon Burke to the Globe on Thursday. “If you aren’t in San Francisco, may be this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Lowell and the mural were just two of many things seen as wrong, and prior to the recall, no one thought they would be changed outside of legal action. Even the school renaming plan was only stopped due to public pressure and that recall campaign really starting to hit home for many on the board.”

“But this is big. It’s showing that San Francisco, while still a very liberal city, does have it’s limits on just how far it is willing to go. Between this, Mayor [London] Breed inching more to the center on things, and DA Chesa Boudin being recalled a few weeks ago, San Francisco is baby-stepping back to normalcy, or at least as normal as San Francisco gets. For Lowell, it’s just one high school, but it’s academics winning out against a system that derided merit. For the mural, it is having accurate history winning out against those who wanted to censor it because they simply didn’t like to see an accurate history.”

“San Franciscans are beginning to see and even correct some of the errors leaders have been making for quite some time. The board vote is just another indication that we are on the right track.”

The San Francisco School Board is expected to meet over other pre-recall decisions later this year.

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