Recall SF School Board has gathered more than 20,000 signatures to recall two San Francisco School Board members, board president Gabriela López and Alison Collins, and in excess of 18,500 signatures to withdraw board vice president Faauuga Moliga.
“We are recalling the School Board because they have consistently failed to put students first,” said Autumn Looijen, who co-leads the campaign with her husband, Siva Raj. “San Francisco had the best COVID-19 control of any major U.S. city, but half our children did not return to school. We were the only top 25 metropolitan area to keep middle and high schools closed. The majority of Black and Latinx families wanted to return to school. Those communities were hit hard by learning loss, but the Board was more focused on renaming schools based on shoddy Wikipedia research. They chose symbols over the actual hard work of getting school sites ready for children to return.”
Throughout the summer Recall SF School Board will canvass neighborhoods and attend events to gather the 51,325 signatures needed to place recalling each of the three board members on the ballot. Signatures must be submitted to the San Francisco Elections Department by September 7. If Recall SF School Board succeeds, Mayor London Breed will appoint replacements to serve the remainder of the retracted members’ terms.
López, Collins, and Moliga can be recalled because they’ve been on the board for at least six months. According to the San Francisco Elections Guide to Recalling Local Elected Officials, a recall petition may not be initiated for officers who have held their seats for less than half a year.
“The others won’t be eligible for recall until July 7. At that point, we’ll talk to members of our community to see what they want to do,” said Raj.
Raj said that Recall SF School Board has more than 900 volunteers and donors located throughout the City. As of June, the organization has raised approximately $137,000, with donations ranging in size from $5 to $10,099.
“Our goal is to raise $300,000 to help us hire paid signature gatherers to augment our volunteer signature gathering efforts. We ran the first part of our campaign with donations limited to $99 per person. We put that money into clipboards and pens, T-shirts, and posters for small businesses to put in their windows. A lot of small businesses have come to us interested in showing their support for the petitions,” said Looijen.
Stacey Randecker, a Mississippi Street resident, joined Recall SF School Board because she believes López, Collins, and Moliga, as well as members Mark Sanchez and Matt Alexander, have the wrong priorities.
“I am the daughter of two public school teachers and the mother of two children who are students in SFUSD schools. What the Board did, abandoning its responsibility to plan to return to in-person learning for so long, is morally reprehensible,” said Randecker.
Randecker was particularly concerned about the Board’s attempts to rename schools, which she sees as “a huge misstep. In addition, Collins’ anti-Asian tweets from 2016 are problematic. I see her in particular as being militant and divisive. She makes the recall’s job easier.”
“In March 2021, I started going to the board meetings held over Zoom,” said Cristina Rivera, a Recall SF School Board member and Upper Mission District resident. “I was appalled at how the meetings were being run, going until midnight. Board members were unwelcoming to parents who made statements. The Board spent hours talking about renaming the schools. I’m not against the renaming. I am concerned about the process the Board was using.”
According to Rivera, only a small group of parents were able to discuss renaming the school her child attends, Marshall Elementary, during the pandemic, when the campus was shuttered.
“For an issue like this, you need to get the whole school involved.
Man Kit Lam, a Richmond District resident, said he got involved in Recall SF School Board for his son, a ninth grader who has trouble learning on Zoom and hasn’t been able to form strong social bonds with peers through virtual classes.
“I promised him that I would speak up for him. Also, right now, since I speak Cantonese, I’m reaching out to members of the Cantonese-speaking community,” said Lam.
Lam said Recall SF School Board is in the early stages of contacting parents, guardians, and residents in the Richmond and Sunset districts. Tabling at the Clement Street Farmers Market on Sunday mornings nets roughly 100 signatures a week.
“People have different reasons not to be happy with the school board. The changes regarding Lowell High School, Collins’ remarks, and the delay of a full reopening have all come up,” said Lam.
John Rothmann, Laurel Heights resident and host of The John Rothmann Show on KGO 810 AM, wants all board members recalled.
“I am president of the George Washington High School Alumni Association, a position I’ve held since 1974. I am upset about the complete lack of responsiveness from the Board as to multiple issues,” said Rothmann.
Rothmann introduced the recall effort on his show, in part to garner listeners’ opinions on the school renaming effort.
“The Board chose issues they believed would mobilize their base. Yet you shouldn’t have a political agenda when you want to serve on the SF School Board. The interests of the students, faculty, and administration should be your primary areas of concern,” said Rothmann.
As reported in last month’s View, Better Public Schools San Francisco, a political action committee, is campaigning to change how the board is structured. Cochairs Patrick Wolff and Jennifer Kuhr Butterfoss met as volunteers for Families for San Francisco, a Democratic-founded movement to educate residents about City politics and hold elected officials accountable.
“We founded Better Public Schools San Francisco in January 2021. We want to reform how the San Francisco School Board works and change the definition of the role of commissioner. We want more transparency and oversight and for the Board to do a better job overall,” said Wolff.
Butterfoss, who worked as a San Francisco Unified School District principal and teacher for 11 years, said Better Public Schools San Francisco wants to change the process by which members are selected to an appointment system.
“Our goal is to put a charter amendment on the City ballot in June 2022. To accomplish this, we’re still working on figuring out what we want the amendment to say,” said Butterfoss.
According to Wolff, Better Public Schools San Francisco has collected email addresses from thousands of City residents.
“This isn’t a membership organization. We don’t have a hard limit on donations. We are looking to raise several million dollars to run a campaign to educate residents about the need for structural change. The money will also go to maintain our website, create signs, and engage in outreach,” said Wolff.
Wolff and Butterfoss declined to disclose how much money the PAC had raised.
Butterfoss said Better Public Schools San Francisco has similar concerns as Recall School Board San Francisco.
“San Francisco is a great city, which deserves a great public school system. Right now, we don’t have one. That’s partly because the Board doesn’t ask for and isn’t receptive to feedback from educators, school administrations, and parents,” said Butterfoss.
826 Valencia, with facilities in the Mission, Tenderloin, and Mission Bay, helps under-resourced six- to 18-year-olds develop creative and expository writing skills. Bita Nazarian, the nonprofit’s executive director, is concerned about the vast opportunity gap for low-income students of color.
“This is one of the wealthiest cities in the nation with the widest income inequality, which is mirrored by disparate access to opportunities and the support students need to thrive. At 826 Valencia, we’re seeing every day how our students face these challenges and deal with all the impacts of the virus on their families, communities, and access to learning. We are facing a crisis in education as a result of this pandemic. We must put the voices and needs of our most vulnerable and historically marginalized students first,” said Nazarian.
This summer, the San Francisco Unified School District is offering educational programs for elementary through high school students to address learning loss during the pandemic. Classes are available in-person or virtually, and focus on reading, writing, and math.
SFUSD is preparing for a full return to in-person learning this fall, with later start times for middle and high schools in compliance with Senate Bill 328. The recently adopted law requires commencement delays to improve health and academic outcomes for teenagers.
SFUSD is collaborating with municipal agencies to encourage students and families to get vaccinated. The effort involves school-based vaccine clinics, notifying families of opportunities to get vaccinated and the benefits of being inoculated against COVID-19.
In April, SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews paused his retirement plans. As part of contract renewal negotiations, he insisted that the Board focus on following its rules and reopen schools.
To learn more about SFUSD’s summer school: https://www.sfusd.edu/summer; fall 2021 plans: https://www.sfusd.edu/about-sfusd/sfusd-news/current-news-sfusd/sfusd-preparing-full-return-fall-2021