During a chaotic San Francisco Board of Education meeting on Tuesday that had to be recessed at times due to members of the public shouting and even fighting each other at times, School Board member Ann Hsu was formally admonished for remarks some perceived as racist.
The controversy over Hsu began last month. Hsu, who was one of the leaders for recalling three members of the school board earlier this year and a hand picked replacement member on the board by Mayor London Breed in March, wrote in a controversial answer for a question asking about why black and brown students do not perform as well as others when filling out a questionnaire for the San Francisco Parent Action group in preparation for 2022 school board member election.
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.
As calls for resignation continued, school board members decided to hold a vote admonishing Hsu for the remarks. While much momentum was behind chastising Hsu, she also received much support from people noting that she had been telling the truth about the situation, but misspoke and worded her response in a way that could be seen that way. Not helping those who oppose Hsu in recent days has been Supervisor Walton facing controversy over a racial incident of his own, with even Mayor Breed calling on him to apologize.
With both sides of the issue charged, the school board meeting on Tuesday quickly grew into chaos.
San Francisco NAACP Vice President Arnold Townsend noted that Hsu should resign immediately, comparing Hsu to recalled school board member Alison Collins, whose racist Twitter remarks against Asians contributed to the landslide election ousting her in February.
“If Alison Collins’ words hurt Asian children, certainly, what does these words do to black and brown children,” Townsend said. “It would seem so obvious to me that what we’re calling for is the right thing to do. Our children are not being treated the same and now they’ve made it blatant.”
While several others, including parents, spoke against her, many others defended her, saying once again that she misspoke but at the same time wanted to help those students succeed by going after root issues of students not performing as well as others.
“If we want to fix the problem we have to be able to talk about root causes even if they’re uncomfortable for some people,” said supporter Diane Yap.
Hsu apologizes for misspeaking
For her part, Hsu apologized again, and during the vote, voted in favor of admonishing herself as a show of apology.
“I misspoke while trying to discuss these issues,” explained Hsu. “I am truly sorry. I look forward to getting back to the work I and my colleagues have committed to do.”
Hsu’s vote, which made the decision unanimous, cooled many watching down. Many who had been calling for her resignation stopped as well in response.
“She did the right thing, apologized, explained what she said wrong, then voted to give herself the punishment,” explained Luis Lozado, a school board monitor and researcher who reviews several cities in western states, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It was the most human response. She still didn’t think what she said was racist for sure, but she acknowledged that people may have read it a certain way and owned up to it, with the implication being that she will do better in the future.”
“Compare that to Collins or Watson. Both tried to get out of the blame game to get out without consequence. But people went after Hsu because they lost control of the school board, as they have been reversing many policies made by the more progressive board. They don’t like that schools are going back to academic based admittance to some elite schools or that school renamings were cancelled or that artwork depicting deplorable past events in California history have been brought back. Hsu, who was one of those who led the recall charge, is an easy target, and as soon as she messed up, they went after her.”
“If we are comparing two people and one apologies for any misunderstanding and gives themselves the punishment while the other refuses to even acknowledge the possibility they did something wrong, I guarantee you that the person who apologized and is trying to do well again is the wrong person to go after.”
“Hsu showed class on Tuesday amidst all the chaos. She won many over who originally wanted her out. It might harm her election in November, but for right now, the ball is back in the progressives court as the Walton racist slur is still very much a story.”
Hsu, as well as other board members, are to face elections for the school board in November.