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SAN FRANCISCO – Voters in San Francisco head to the polls Tuesday for a recall election that is seen by many as a reckoning for the board of the San Francisco Unified School District. The rare special election takes aim at three board members, all Democrats, who’ve served long enough to be eligible to be recalled: Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez and Faauuga Moliga.
“They need to go because they’re playing politics,” said Kit Lam, a recall organizer who gathered hundreds of signatures to qualify the recall, including from many first-time voters. “They don’t care about our children’s education.”
The recall effort began more than a year ago while public schools remained closed even as San Francisco’s private schools figured out how to reopen safely, and as city officials deemed it was safe for all kids to return to in-person classes. Last year, the city attorney sued the school board over its failure to reopen. The pandemic saw student enrollment drop and the district’s budget shortfall grow — to $125 million.
Amid the growing financial crisis, and with many students struggling with remote learning, the school board focused on renaming 44 school sites deemed to be offensive, including high schools named after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, without a plan to get kids back into those very same schools.
The board also moved to cover a historic high school mural because, along with Washington, it depicts images of slaves and slain Native Americans.
Many were baffled when the board refused to consider Seth Benzel, a gay, White father of a biracial child, for a parent advisory council because he wasn’t diverse enough.
And, in another controversial move, the board skirted its own rules and eliminated competitive admissions at the academically elite Lowell High School because too many Asian students were getting in.
Members of San Francisco’s Chinese community were further enraged by what they called a series of racist tweets by Collins, who is Black. Before she was on the board and became its vice president, she tweeted, among other things, that Asian Americans had used “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and get ahead.” When Collins was subsequently demoted, she sued the district and her colleagues for $87 million, fueling yet another pandemic sideshow.
If Collins, Lopez and Moliga are recalled, their replacements will be chosen by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who has blasted the school board for being “distracted by political agendas.”
While Breed is a Democrat who’s supported the recall, opponents have framed it as a “conservative power grab” and a waste of money.
“Everyone who is following this campaign knows that billionaires are trying to buy out public education outright,” said Frank Lara, the vice president of the United Educators of San Francisco, which has opposed the recall. Collins was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying she believed “right wingers, Big Tech, and Trump supporters” were behind the effort to oust her and her two colleagues.
Pro-recall groups have raised more than $1.9 million, a huge amount for a school board recall, and far more than the $86,000 raised by the anti-recall side.
Even though every voter gets a mail-in ballot, turnout is expected to be fairly low for this special election. As of last weekend, about 20% of ballots had been returned, but both sides are counting on a big turnout Tuesday. Final results may not be available until later in the week.