The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education has made itself into a national laughingstock.
Facing a COVID pandemic, declining enrollment and a budget deficit that put the district at risk of a state takeover, school board commissioners embarked on a quixotic crusade to strip the names of leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein from schools. Ignoring the basics of the job, they put political grandstanding ahead of progress for children.
These antics garnered national attention, transforming the board into a caricature of comically backward priorities. Instead of tackling urgent problems, the board indulged in performative activism and other controversial projects, like ending merit-based admission at Lowell High School.
The situation intensified after critics unearthed old tweets from Commissioner Alison Collins. In the tweets, Collins criticized the Asian American community in a way some considered hurtful and racist. Fellow school board members stripped her of her vice presidency, leading Collins to file an $87 million lawsuit.
Collins eventually dropped the lawsuit, but it cost the financially-beleaguered district $60,000 in legal fees. By then, public outrage had catalyzed into a determined effort that began gathering tens of thousands of signatures to recall three commissioners: Collins, Gabriela López and Fauuga Moliga. Their fate will be decided on Feb. 15 in an election slated to cost The City’s taxpayers millions of dollars.
On Wednesday, The Examiner Editorial Board interviewed Collins and Moliga. (López did not respond to interview requests.)
Collins expressed no regrets.
“I’m actually really proud of my work on the board,” Collins said.
She defended her leadership and dismissed the recall effort as a conspiracy pushed by wealthy interests and conservative think tanks.
“I think that big money and connections can buy you great consultants and give you talking points,” she said.
While it’s true that some of the recall’s financial support has come from venture capitalists and corporate political action committees, this recall clearly has a broader base of support. Two local parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, launched the effort, which has attracted support from Democratic politicians like Mayor London Breed and state Sen. Scott Wiener.
Collins defended her lawsuit, calling it necessary to protect herself and her family. Her comments proved she has learned nothing from this experience and accepts no blame for her predicament.
Moliga argued he did nothing to merit recall. He noted he was a target, rather than a supporter, of Collins’ lawsuit.
“I’ve broken no laws, hurt no individuals,” Moliga said. “My leadership on the board speaks for itself in terms of bringing humility, respect and listening to all constituents.”
Moliga also highlighted the fact that he’s the first Pacific Islander ever elected to city office.
“When a city decides to turn its back and recall the first Pacific Islander to ever be elected in the city, historically … I can’t tell what the future’s going to hold for this city in terms of … how this impacts everything else,” he said.
López did not participate in The Examiner’s endorsement process, but she had plenty to say in a boneheaded 2021 interview with the New Yorker magazine in which, among other things, she dissed Abraham Lincoln and generally made a fool out of herself.
This recall started when frustrated parents took a stand against a board they felt had lost touch with student and parent concerns. In an interview with The Examiner, Raj said the decision to launch the recall came after he watched commissioners ignore parents’ pleas to reopen schools, focusing instead on distractions like renaming schools.
“I was actually shocked to see that the school board members didn’t have any desire to engage or listen to parents in the community … and had built a wall of indifference around themselves,” said Raj, noting that school reopening — a top priority for parents — seemed to be the last item on the board’s agenda.
Parents like Raj certainly have the commissioners’ attention now. Unfortunately, the three commissioners facing recall still don’t grasp why their actions provoked this recall. This lack of remorse and self-reflection makes it clear why parents are so fed up. Despite claims to the contrary, the recall campaign began as a grassroots effort by parents who felt the need to demand better for their children.
The San Francisco Examiner Editorial Board urges a yes vote on the school board recall. Hopefully, it will send a message to other local elected officials about the dangers of willfully neglecting core duties in favor of vainglorious ideological stunts.