On the same day our nation was inaugurating its first Black female Vice President, students at Lowell High School in San Francisco witnessed extreme hate speech, pornography, and references to the Biden presidency directed at Black and Jewish students. Student leaders took immediate action and organized an email campaign to city officials (Be advised, the link contains screenshots of the incident which contain graphic and triggering images and language.) The response prompted school staff and alumni seeking to preserve Lowell’s reputation to immediately move into damage control.
During last Tuesday’s Board of Education Meeting on January 26, 2021, students, families, educators, community, members, and leaders in the Black community, including the local SF NAACP and Board Commissioners, spoke for over three hours about the egregious and ongoing racist abuse that Black students have experienced at Lowell for decades. Student Delegates Kathya Correa Almanza and Shavonne Hines-Foster described in excruciating detail the many ways that the administration and district as a whole have failed to protect students. (View the full meeting here. Skip to this item in the video at 1:10:26)
With all this community outrage about the ongoing discrimination at one of our city’s most lauded high schools, you would think every newspaper would have covered the meeting. Instead, the SF Chronicle editorial board chose to focus the next morning on an issue that received far less time in the meeting, received praise as well as disagreement, and was approved almost unanimously by Commissioners. (This is several months after two women of color on the board were targeted by violent imagery which depicted swastikas and x-marks on their faces.)
The image and headline of the OpEd the SF Chronicle chose to print included pictures and names of each Commissioner (publicly available on the district website), and effectively “doxxed” Commissioners. These tactics were similarly used in an article on the New Republic last year during the Life of Washington mural controversy which resulted in Commissioners receiving email threats from across the country.
In contrast, this article from the SF Examiner chose to focus on the real story of the evening. Whether we agree or disagree on the district policy to rename schools, we should all at least agree that all children deserve safe schools free of hate speech and pornography. So why aren’t many of the folks raising the alarm about school closures also raising alarms about attacks on Black and Jewish children?
Does anyone smell something fishy?
The renaming story is a red herring. Saying that the SFUSD Board of Education is spending an inordinate amount of time talking about renaming and thus is preventing us from reopening schools is untrue. (Many other large urban school districts across the state are also having difficulty reopening, and they are not renaming schools, e.g. Los Angeles, Oakland, Contra Costa, etc.)
Commissioners have made a commitment to making reopening a priority and have put the topic on each and every Regular Board Agenda and placed it on Committee Meeting agendas as well. (Feel free to challenge me on this by reviewing past agendas.)
If you take me up on my challenge or are an avid follower of our meetings (bless your heart!) you will clearly see the only time in the last few years we have discussed renaming was at last week’s meeting. In fact, the Naming Resolution was proposed and approved in 2018 before all but one of us joined the Board. (Learn more about it in this interview I did with Commissioner Mark Sanchez, the author of the resolution, and the people involved in the Naming Committee.)
So, if the Board of Education isn’t giving school naming this much airtime, why is this topic taking up so much page real estate in the SF Chronicle? That’s a topic for a future post, and believe me, it’s a doozy. Let me just say, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean and professor of Education Policy Studies and Evaluation, says this is a “privatization coup” in the making.
Coverage of the renaming controversy that targets individual commissioners is currently fueling death threats against them while it obscures a much more important issue affecting our students— Lowell High School.
Folks concerned about “learning loss” due to school closures and its disproportionate impact on Black and Brown students should be talking about the courageous Black and Latinx student leaders at Lowell who have been leading the charge to address racist abuse and sexual harassment at their school. They should be decrying the acts of targeted hate speech and death threats against student leaders. These students have been shouted down at meetings after making requests for school and district leaders to deal with discrimination and sexual harassment, and assault claims. The most recent incident of hate speech at Lowell, and the ongoing lack of action by site and district administrators, is something we should all be discussing.
Incidents like these have been going on for decades and are especially egregious considering students staged a walkout of the school for similar offenses in 2016. The fact that both incidents happened during near election year with The Black community in San Francisco is demanding accountability, and we deserve visibility and support.
As September Rose, a Black parent leader in SFUSD, recently stated in a article on Black World Media:
“We need this publicized. This cannot continue to be the norm. I am requesting sustainable and efficient reform, within a realistic timeline.”
The question is before us: Do we as San Franciscans, in a so-called “progressive” city, have the political will to address blatant racism in an elite public high school if it means sullying the reputation of our most celebrated school?
Support Black Lowell Student leaders
This past week I reached out to local, state, and national NAACPs to address this issue. President Gabriela López and Commissioner Matt Alexander, and I are presenting a resolution to foster true accountability and healing at a Special Meeting of the Board of Education this Tuesday, February 2nd at 3:00 PM. The resolution was co-authored with Student Delegates Shavonne Hines-Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza and in partnership with the local chapter of the NAACP, and state and national NAACP. It also has support from leaders in the SF Human Rights Commission, and Office of Racial Justice. I encourage folks to learn more about the resolution this coming Tuesday and then the following week at the Regular Board when it is slated to be voted on by the board.
SFUSD Student Advisory Council (SAC) leaders are also holding a press conference on Friday, February 5th at 2 pm. Please elevate this important work and support students with their demands: