On Tuesday, November 15, three progressive San Francisco School Board Members were recalled by voters, losing their seats by landslide margins. “Yes” votes to recall School Board Commissioner Alison Collins, President Gabriela Lopez, and Vice President Faauuga Moliga all topped 70%, as a coalition of conservatives, moderates, and liberals united to oust the members.
The recall effort was spearheaded by voters and supported by San Francisco’s Democratic Mayor, London Breed, who described the school board’s priorities as “seriously misplaced.” This recall is part of a nationwide backlash by parents against a variety of progressive education policies, including Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s (R) victory against Terry McAuliffe (D) last November. Opponents of the recall aimed to connect the recall to broader national politics, including the attempted recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and Youngkin himself, imploring Democrats to vote “No” on the recall effort. The “San Francisco Berniecrats” endorsed against the recall, with one advocate arguing that the recall was “supported by dirty money from all sorts of places that aren’t [San Francisco].”
Public anger against the San Francisco School Board commenced in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic when the board created a 12-person committee to consider renaming schools that were named after figures with connections to racism, slavery, or colonization. This committee was created in mid-2020, during a national period of racial reckoning following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. The committee designated 44 schools as candidates to be renamed, including two named after Abraham Lincoln and California Senator Dianne Feinstein. The board received criticism for this committee, and Mayor Breed later expressed concern the School Board was “distracted by unnecessary influences or political agendas.” After nationwide backlash, no schools were renamed—but not before the School Board spent over $1 Million on the committee. Parents in San Francisco were especially unhappy about this expenditure given that the School Board rejected hiring a consultant to create a plan for reopening schools, which the board in part rejected because of its high cost.
Opposition against the School Board intensified after the board ended Lowell High School’s merit-based admissions in February 2021. Lowell High School is a public magnet school in San Francisco, and historically selected students based on a variety of factors including GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurriculars. The board cited “pervasive systemic racism” and the schools’ lack of diversity as reasons to permanently switch to a lottery-based entrance system. In 2015, the school was majority Asian, only 15% white, and 59% female.
The recall effort was strongly backed by Asian parents, who especially took exception to Commissioner Alison Collins’ social media posts about Asians along with her push to move Lowell High School to a lottery-based admissions system. Collins accused Asian-Americans of using “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and get ahead” and referred to them as “house [n-word]s.” After these tweets resurfaced in early 2021, Collins was stripped of her role as School Board Vice President.
Some of the strongest support for Alison Collins’ recall was in the heavily Asian neighborhoods of Sunset, Chinatown, and Richmond. Over 84% of voters in these majority Asian neighborhoods voted for her recall, with the other two School Board members trailing close behind. Joe Biden carried these neighborhoods with over 80% of the vote in 2020. Collins was ultimately recalled with 78% of the vote, while Lopez and Moliga were recalled with 75% and 72% of the vote respectively.