SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — On Feb. 15, San Francisco voters will decide whether three members of the city school board should keep their jobs in a special election that has been simultaneously characterized as a grassroots effort by fed-up parents and a power grab by moneyed interests.
The push to recall school board president Gabriela López and board members Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga started with parents Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, who — propelled by mounting vexation with public schools remaining closed for over a year due to the pandemic even as other schools in California reopened — began gathering signatures in late 2020. By October 2021, they had well over the number needed to place the recall on the February 2022 ballot.
Meanwhile, the commissioners aroused widespread ire by turning their attention to renaming 44 elementary and middle schools, earning a sharp rebuke from Mayor London Breed, a lawsuit, and an order from a judge that they drop the effort.
The board also drew criticism when it decided to scrap merit-based admissions at academically rigorous Lowell High School without giving parents adequate notice and opportunity to comment.
For public school parent Todd David, the final straw came in June 2020 when the board shot down Superintendent Vince Matthew’s request to hire a reopening consultant for the schools. Their reasoning? The consultant had previously done some work for a charter school. At the time, Matthews called the rejection a “body blow” for reopening.
"Renaming the schools was botched and it was an embarrassment, but for me when the superintendent said 'I need to do this to get kids safely back in school' and the board says ‘no,’ that is quintessentially putting performative politics before children,” David said. “That sits in my craw. I can't believe they said no because someone at some point did some consulting for a charter school. This was an expert that the superintendent said we needed.”
Commissioner Moliga explained why he initially voted against hiring the consultant in an email to Courthouse News.
“I have been asked about my vote regarding the consultant at almost every debate I have had with the recall proponents in the last two months. My answer each time is that I did not vote for the consultant in 2020, because all the research I had done showed it was not clear if they can engage with the community during this time of crisis.”
He said he did vote to hire the consultant when it came up before the board again in 2021. “I voted to support the hiring of the consultant, because the superintendent was adamant that we needed a consultant to successfully open schools. However, shortly after we approved the contract for the consultant, the firm said they could not fulfill the scope of the contract because they did not have the capacity to complete the work. Therefore, the work was never done by the consultant and SFUSD was still able to successfully open schools. My votes are never based on ‘personal performative politics,’ and I believe my reason for voting on the issue of the consultant shows that to be true.”
López did not respond to a request for comment.
When reached by email, Collins was initially receptive to questions but did not respond to them before press time. But she defended her reopening stance in a November interview with local radio station KQED. “We represent all parents and I'm a parent who wanted my teenagers to go back for sure, but there were also families that reached out to us that were worried,” she said. "Our number one priority was opening schools safely, not opening schools at all costs.”