During the weekend, San Francisco Board of Education member Ann Hsu faced mounting pressure to resign and not run in November after backlash continues from questionnaire comments she made about why black and brown students don’t perform as well as others last week.
Hsu has been a school board member since March, when Mayor London Breed picked her as one of three board member replacements following the successful recall of three school board members the week prior. Hsu, a Chinese-American entrepreneur, was one of the major figures leading the recall against the three board members. The new board members have also made major changes in the past few months. Spurred by fewer progressives on the board, the new board began reversing many changes and policies made by the previous board, often by narrow 4-3 votes.
However, the future of more changes suddenly came into question last week. When filling out a questionnaire for the San Francisco Parent Action group in preparation for 2022 school board member election, Hsu wrote in a controversial answer for a question asking about why black and brown students do not perform as well as others. Hsu wrote in multiple reasons, including “lack of family support,” “unstable family environments,” and “lack of parental encouragement to focus on or value learning.”
Her full quote was as follows: “From my very limited exposure in the past four months to the challenges of educating marginalized students especially in the black and brown community, I see one of the biggest challenges as being the lack of family support for those students. Unstable family environments caused by housing and food insecurity along with lack of parental encouragement to focus on learning cause children to not be able to focus on or value learning.”
Upon release, many city lawmakers, groups, and others were up in arms over the answer and immediately called for her resignation, calling her comments ‘racist’ and ‘out of touch.’ The San Francisco Teachers union, as well as city Supervisors Shamann Walton, Connie Chan, and Dean Preston, were amongst those, including the NAACP, asking her to resign in a 105-0 vote, with their announcement coming right after Hsu personally delivered an apology.
“Hsu has offered an apology and promised to ‘do better.’ While her apology is accepted, it is not enough to overcome the damage she has done,” said the NAACP on Monday. “The Black community in San Francisco cannot put its trust in her to be an advocate for the needs of Black students, especially access to all the educational opportunities available to other students.”
“Hsu told the (NAACP) board that she has very limited knowledge of Black people and that she is a scientist by profession, not a politician. These reasons not only ring hollow but are illogical on their face. Scientists gather empirical evidence to prove or disprove a theory before stating it as fact. Yet she chose to make shockingly false statements about Black students and families while having no meaningful knowledge about them.”
Hsu defended, critics point out that previous board members did not resign over worse comments
However, despite the increased calls for her resignation this weekend, Hsu has also been given support or has been defended by many who have said that while the comments were combative, it was still only one written word comment, Hsu hasn’t had a history of racially charged comments in the past, and that the comment could now be a ‘teachable moment.’
“Hsu’s comments are disappointing and hurtful, but I don’t call for her resignation,” said Mayor Breed. “I’m hopeful we don’t just dismiss this and say, ‘Oh she needs to resign. It’s like, ‘How do we come together and make this a teaching moment? How do we prevent this from becoming politically divisive?’ Because she does, in fact, represent a constituency who feel that they want a representative on this Board of Education. So, I think that it’s important for her to be a better leader and to be a better bridge-builder.”
Others noted that Hsu still has strong support from many in the community.
“Hsu put a foot in her mouth on this one and obviously didn’t formulate a more concise response,” explained San Francisco-based policy advisor Sharon Burke to the Globe on Monday. “Hsu made a mistake, apologized for it like an adult, and said she would do better. To many, that’s a fair response and a reasonable way to handle it.
“It honestly just came at a difficult time for many progressives and liberals in the city. They’ve been losing major elections left and right, older policies regarding everything from drug arrests to schools switching back to grades being the main factor for admission. Things are not going their way, so when they see blood in the water, by someone who was appointed over a more progressive person who was removed no less, they strike. They want any victory they can get at this point.”
“And yeah, Hsu should have been better in her response and should have put more thought and research into her answer. But it was one comment in a questionnaire with no past incidents like this. One of her predecessors, Alison Collins, who is very progressive, said something much worse, and yet never resigned and had to be recalled earlier this year. Best course of action, at this point, would let the voters decide for themselves this November, just like with Collins.”
More on the questionnaire incident is likely to come later this week.
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