CLAD IN YOUR Wearing a bright yellow campaign T-shirt, Kit Lam and his fellow supporters of the effort to impeach three members of the San Francisco Board of Education fanned out in Chinatown. They were making a final push on Election Day, speaking enthusiastically in Mandarin and Cantonese to passersby. “We’re going to win today, and it won’t be close,” says Mr. Lam. He soon demonstrated his abilities as an expert and activist. The three commissioners, Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga, were resoundingly defeated on February 15. It is the city’s first successful recall campaign since 1914.
San Francisco was an unlikely site for a school board battle. It is a stronghold of the Democratic Party. Among the 100 largest cities in the United States, it has the lowest proportion of children in the population. 30% of them are enrolled in private schools. The emphatic rejection of the directive points to deep discontent. This was due to the indifferent approach to reopening public schools amid the covid-19 pandemic, coupled with an excessive focus on symbolic issues of racial justice.
Siva Raj saw the cost that remote learning had inflicted on his children. “Our children were falling further and further behind,” says Mr. Raj. Neither the speeches, nor the petitions, nor the protests seemed to have an effect. In February, Raj and his partner, Autumn Looijen, began collecting signatures for the recall.
As the students struggled, the board toyed with renaming 44 schools, some of which honored infamous villains like Abraham Lincoln. He turned down a candidate for the parent advisory council because, as a white, gay man, he wouldn’t add enough racial diversity. Meanwhile, the city’s racial achievement gap only widened during the pandemic: African Americans suffered higher rates of absenteeism and learning loss than others. With a $125 million school budget shortfall looming, San Francisco Mayor London Breed supported the recall. He will now name three replacements.
Many Asian-Americans were outraged by the decision to change merit-based admissions at the academically rigorous Lowell High School to a lottery. The board justified this change as necessary for racial justice. After the proportion of Asian-Americans in the next freshman class at Lowell fell from 50% to 42%, Ms. Lopez praised the school’s “possibly more diverse student population.” “People in the community were fed up,” says Lam, a Chinese-American father of two. Precincts in predominantly Asian-American neighborhoods voted for the recall by nearly 10 percentage points more than the city as a whole.
Opponents tried in vain to portray the impeachment as a right-wing power grab. “This was a revolution for the competition,” says Ms. Looijen. It’s a warning to radicals on school boards across America.
For exclusive information and reading recommendations from our correspondents in the United States, subscribe to Checks and Balance, our weekly newsletter.
This article appeared in the US section of the print edition under the headline “Full Withdrawal”