School board recall effort begins gathering signatures

Organizers say officials failed to prioritize reopening schools

Organizers seeking to recall three San Francisco school board members have been cleared to begin gathering signatures, with hopes of bringing the issue to voters in a special election.

The couple behind the effort, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, is expected to kick off the signature drive Thursday to recall Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez and members Faauuga Moliga and Alison Collins after receiving clearance from the Department of Elections earlier in the week.

While Looijen and Raj would like to unseat the entire school board over its inability to quickly reopen schools during the pandemic, four board members are not eligible for a recall effort until July because they assumed office earlier this year.

“No one’s run a successful recall campaign and we want to be the first to do it,” said Looijen. “We have some serious concerns about whether the people in power have the ability to steer the ship.”

Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to The City last December and have two children enrolled in the San Francisco Unified School District. The couple says the board has been distracted by an effort to rename 44 schools with problematic names instead of focusing on reopening.

Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj hold up one of three petitions to recall members of the San Francisco Unified School Board outside City Hall on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj hold up one of three petitions to recall members of the San Francisco Unified School Board outside City Hall on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

In February, the school board paused the renaming process to focus on reopening the schools.

“We’ve been fully focused on the return to in-person learning and supporting distance learning for students who choose to continue,” Lopez said in response to the campaign. “My attention will continue to be on these efforts and supporting our school district during this time.”

The campaign is expected to circulate individual petitions for Lopez, Moliga and Collins and has until Sept. 7 to submit signatures. The question would appear on the ballot if at least 51,325 signatures, representing 10% of The City’s registered voters, are validated.

Collins has been at the center of controversy in recent weeks after supporters of the recall effort resurfaced her tweets from 2016 in which she criticized Asian Americans for using “white supremacist thinking to ‘get ahead.’” The controversy divided The City as most of its power structure called for Collins to resign.

Jim Stearns, a political consultant, said Collins would likely become the “poster child” for the recall effort but doubted the campaign could gather enough signatures to qualify for an election.

“They are not going to qualify this with a grassroots effort,” Stearns said. “They are only going to qualify if they have the pro-charter, billionaire money active in the last cycle. Once they take that money, they’re just disqualifying themselves from the San Francisco electorate.”

Collins did not return a request for comment in time for publication.

Recall supporters say they debated not moving forward with the effort against Moliga after he supported stripping Collins of her title as vice president and committee assignments last week, but decided his voting record warranted continuing the effort.

Like Lopez and Collins, Moliga has supported school renaming and changing the admissions process for Lowell High School.

Moliga defended his record, which includes authoring legislation to increase teacher retention through the construction of educator housing.

“The recall effort shows there is a group of parents that are frustrated with the school board,” Moliga said. “I am the first Pacific Islander ever elected in office in San Francisco, giving my marginalized community a voice in local government for the first time.”

Should voters recall any members, Mayor London Breed would appoint their replacements.

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