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Trump’s election reinvigorates hate at SF’s public schools

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Lowell High School students stand outside City Hall on Feb. 23 during a walkout protest over instances of racism at the school. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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District officials have been trying to shift the culture at San Francisco’s flagship public high school after a racially charged incident infuriated black students last spring, but the election of Donald Trump hasn’t made their job any easier.

Four students reportedly scrawled a handful of swastikas and “Fuck Donald Trump” on campus last month in the wake of the president-elect’s apparent victory, according to the Lowell Parent, Teacher, Student Association.

“This is just a miniature version of what’s going on all around the country,” said Missy Sue Mastel, past-president of the Lowell PTSA.

The graffiti appeared on campus despite Lowell and the San Francisco Unified School District rolling out diversity and anti-racist training for faculty at the school over the summer in response to an incident last school year.

In February, a student posted pictures of black icons, including President Barack Obama, in a display case on campus alongside the words “Happy Black History Month” and “#Gang.”

Lowell is not alone in its struggles with expressions of intolerance. Many schools in the district have reported an uptick in hate speech this school year, according to SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe. District officials are assigning blame for the rise to the vitriolic language spread throughout the presidential election.

“We see around this country a rise in hate speech, hate slurs, people saying things that are shocking to us,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Sanderson. “Whenever we see that in our country … they are going to manifest themselves in our schools.”

In response, two members of the Board of Education want to take a stand against hatred and intolerance in the district. School board President Matt Haney and Vice President Shamann Walton introduced a resolution Tuesday calling on the superintendent to create protocols for school officials to respond to bias-related incidents and more support for schools.

“A lot of ugliness has popped up across the country, across the Bay Area and even in some of our own schools,” Walton said. “I can’t confirm exactly if these incidents are brand new or if this is ongoing, but we can say there has been a climate across the country that allows people to be very vocal about their discontent for other people.”

Walton also said he had heard of people writing “Kill All Black People” in restrooms and yelling racial slurs on the playground in SFUSD schools.

“All of our schools should be inclusive, safe environments that celebrate diversity,” Haney said in a text message. “We are working to make sure that our schools have the support they need, including curriculum, resources and clear protocol, to foster these environments.”

While the resolution would lead to the district doubling down on its stance against intolerance, if passed, Mastel and Sanderson said Lowell has already been working to make its students more culturally competent.

“Lowell has 200 clubs, and a great chunk of them are dedicated to social awareness and equity and diversity,” Mastel said.

Still, there’s a long journey ahead for the school, which has historically served underrepresented populations of black and Latino students.

Just over 2 percent of the students who went to Lowell in the 2014-15 school year were black — fewer than 60 of the 2,718 students enrolled, according to the district.

“When we start talking about shifting school culture and shifting school climate, we are not talking about a short list,” Sanderson said. “The process of doing that is probably a three- to five-year process at minimum.”

The SFUSD and Lowell have spent more than $100,000 on the diversity training for faculty since this summer, according to Mastel, who also sits on the School Site Council that monitors the school’s budget. The district did not independently confirm that number. The district could also only confirm a report that one student drew one swastika at Lowell.

“Lowell has invested both the fiscal resources and the time not just to have a one-off professional development this summer but to have a continued development this year,” Sanderson said. “They desire the cultural shift in our society that many of us desire in our society.”

In January, Lowell will expand its diversity training to 24 students who will participate in monthly sessions, according to Blythe.

In the meantime, Lowell has been focused on getting students through their final exams, which are scheduled for this week.

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