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San Francisco school board rebukes member after race comments

A woman wearing a mask sits by a microphone
Commissioner Ann Hsu during a Tuesday meeting, where the San Francisco school board voted unanimously to admonish her over racially incendiary statements she made in a candidate questionnaire about equitable education.
(Stephen Lam / San Francisco Chronicle)

The San Francisco school board voted unanimously Tuesday to admonish Commissioner Ann Hsu over racially incendiary statements she made in a candidate questionnaire about equitable education.

During a special meeting Tuesday evening, Hsu apologized and voted for her own admonishment but said that she would not resign and that she still plans to face voters in the upcoming school board election.

The meeting was held in response to Hsu’s answers about educating marginalized students on a candidate questionnaire from a group called SF Parent Action, in which she wrote that the biggest challenges in educating Black and brown students were “unstable family environments” and “lack of parental encouragement to focus on learning.” She also wrote that this forces teachers to work harder in a way “that is not fair to the teachers.”

Critics and supporters of Hsu’s rallied outside the board meeting, holding signs with messages such as “Censure Hsu, stop Black hate” and “Support Ann Hsu, she’s good for SFUSD.” Several community leaders and parents spoke out against Hsu at the rally, like the Rev. Arnold Townsend of the NAACP. He said the “problem with education in San Francisco” is that educators “see some children as children they gotta educate, but they see other children as children they have to control.”

Those who attended the board meeting reported that it was forced into a temporary recess after audience members began yelling at one another.

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Hsu did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

A week after submitting her questionnaire, following backlash from community groups and social media users, Hsu amended her responses and apologized on Twitter.

“I was trying to understand and address a serious problem and seek solutions, and in so doing I said things that perpetuated biases already in the system,” she wrote. “My statements reflected my own limited experiences and inherent biases. I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry.”

Hsu also wrote that she is committed to doing better and promised to prioritize centering the voices of Black, Indigenous and other families of color in her work with the board moving forward.

A green sign says Ann Hsu must resign. Stop Black/brown hate
A person carries a sign during a Tuesday rally outside the San Francisco Unified School District office calling for the resignation of Commissioner Ann Hsu.
(Stephen Lam / San Francisco Chronicle)

Her apology did not do much to pacify outraged members of the community.

The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the San Francisco Democratic Party, the city’s teachers union, multiple members of the Board of Supervisors and a handful of parent advisory councils called on Hsu to step down.

“Her apology was an important step in addressing the harm she has caused for the community,” Supervisor Dean Preston said on Twitter. “However, if this is how she views Black and brown families, it is hard to see how she can be an effective member of our Board of Education.”

In a statement Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District said that Hsu’s written responses “undermine and run counter to” the beliefs of the Board of Education and that “all students can succeed regardless of their race, zip code, income level, or any other factor.”

Hsu was appointed to the school board by Mayor London Breed in February, along with two other commissioners, after the board’s president, vice president and one other member were recalled by voters.

SF Parent Action, which supported the recall of two of the three targeted board members, said it set up a meeting between Black and brown families from its network and Hsu after receiving her questionnaire.

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It’s worth noting that we’ve had the same families meet with Commissioner Hsu multiple times,” said Meredith Dodson, executive director of the organization. “She has engaged with them to learn more about their families and their kids and their schools over the last six months, which we’ve really appreciated and which they have appreciated. But this was clearly very upsetting to most of them.”

Given the families’ history with Hsu, Dodson said, their initial reaction was shock followed by disappointment.

“This narrative is not new to them, and to hear it from Ann Hsu — who they have respected and believed in and felt represented by — really hurt them,” Dodson said. “All of a sudden, you know, they lost that trust in her.”

Dodson noted that though the families condemned Hsu’s actions, they did not call for her to resign.

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Rex Ridgeway, PTSA vice president of a local high school and SFUSD grandparent, got to know Hsu when they worked together on a committee last year. He was at the SF Parent Action meeting last month when her responses originally came to light.

“My immediate reaction was sadness because I know she’s not a racist,” he said. “We worked together for a year, and she never showed me an iota of disrespect.”

Ridgeway doesn’t think Hsu should resign, but he wishes she had run her responses by him before sending them out.

“You cannot just say that parents are not supportive of their kids,” he said. “Every parent on Earth wants their kids to be better. But she hasn’t grown up in the community. She hasn’t seen behind the curtain, so she has some misconceptions.”

On social media, supporters of Hsu cited free speech, calling out “cancel culture” and labeling Hsu a victim of Asian American hate.

More than 300 people have signed an open letter of support for Hsu, saying that they understand she made a mistake, but that she is only human and “did not do so out of any malice.” They wrote that they do not believe Hsu should resign and that this should be a “teaching moment” for her. Signatories include members of the Chinese Parent Advisory Council, the Chinese American Democratic Club and AsianAmericanVoters.org.

“I think people are just tired of the politics,” SF Parent Action’s Dodson said. “They want our district to be able to just focus on our students. We have so much work to do to do better by those students.”


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