Alumni Group Files Suit Over School’s Covering of Slave Murals

Murals depicting U.S. history in San Francisco’s George Washington High School. (Photos by Nicholas Iovino/CNS)

(CN) – A high school alumni association sued San Francisco school officials for ordering the covering of several murals depicting images of George Washington and slaves at his Mount Vernon home, saying the move should not have happened before an environmental study.

Filing suit Friday, the George Washington High School Alumni Association claims that, by ordering an environmental review after the August decision to cover the images, the board did not satisfy its requirements to the California Environmental Quality Act.

The murals, created by artist Victor Arnautoff in 1936, have been the subject of significant controversy in recent months. A debate has whirled over the appropriateness of displaying murals depicting George Washington’s ownership of slaves within a public high school, with some finding the imagery to be historically relevant and others needlessly insensitive.

The George Washington High School Alumni Association alleges, however, that regardless of the murals’ nature, the school board failed in its duties by only issuing an environmental review after the decision was made to cover the murals.

“The School Board in directing CEQA review to address how it wants to remove the 1936 Arnautoff mural from public view abused its discretion and failed to act in the manner required by law by failing to conduct an EIR process before determining whether to leave the mural in place at George Washington High School,” the complaint states.

The alumni association requests that before any further action on the murals is taken, meaningful steps must first take place to ensure that there will be no environmental consequences of the murals’ covering and, if consequences arise, other reasonable options are explored.

“The Alumni Association seeks this Court’s peremptory writ to order the School Board to set aside its decision to remove the Arnautoff mural from public view. Before considering approval, it must conduct an EIR process to consider whether or not to leave the mural in place, since its removal from public view would have significant environmental effects,” the complaint states.

Neither the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education nor the George Washington High School Alumni Association immediately responded to requests for comment.

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