As students return to school after a year of distance learning, the movement to recall the entire San Francisco Unified Board of Education remains underway.
The reason, according to those leading the campaign Recall the SF School Board, is the board’s reluctance to resume in-person education, this despite over 19,000 students returning to in-person learning and 87 schools reopening since April 12.
The couple leading the recall, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, met on Tinder at the height of the pandemic in 2020 and have children from prior relationships, with both of Raj’s children residing in San Francisco Unified Schools and Looijen’s three children enrolled in the Los Altos School District.
“Our energy was really focused on helping our kids…but when the new year started, I saw, especially with my older son, he was having a lot of trouble,” Raj said. “His grades dropped, he was just hating school.”
The couple claims that the school board—namely Board President Gabriela López, Commissioner Alison Collins and Board Vice President Faauuga Moliga—have put other goals before reopening schools in San Francisco.
But SFUSD educators say that the delay was necessary.
Ryan Swick, who teaches third grade at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the city’s Castro neighborhood, said that the difference between what parents want and what the district wants regarding the return to campus depends on which parents you’re asking.
Parents who were pushing the hardest for a fast reopening seemed to be the ones “who are pretty far removed from the virus” and wanted “their children back [in-person] at any cost” because, while the virus is concerning, “they haven’t had the personal loss of a family member or a person that was close to them,” Swick said. “Those families are saying we would love to go back in person but it’s not safe yet.”
Emma Zevin teaches first grade in a Spanish dual immersion program at Paul Revere Elementary School in the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. Additionally Zevin is a UBC (Union Building Committee) representative at her school.
An initial survey from families in Zevin’s class showed less than half of the class felt conditions were acceptable to return to in person learning. Zevin said that parents of her students have mixed opinions on reopening, expressing concerns regarding student transportation, after-school childcare, and safety issues regarding COVID-19.
Zevin said she completely understands “parents who want their children to return to school to receive what they perceive as a full education.” However, she thinks “it makes sense for parents to be considering what’s best for their child, educators to be considering what’s best for their students, themselves, and their own families.”
“How do we give families and educators the assurance that they’re not subjecting themselves to unsafe conditions?” Swick added.
Before a complete reopening, Swick would like to see “vaccinations, herd immunity, and continued safety protocols until deemed unnecessary by the federal government.”
Staggered throughout the month of April, the SFUSD began a partial reopening of some of its schools.
Even as SFUSD schools reopen, Recall SF Schoolboard’s campaign to remove all current members of the district’s Board of Education continues.
Petitions to recall members of the school board went live on April 1. With the help of volunteers, organizers have collected an estimated 7,500 signatures from San Francisco residents as of April 30.
When asked if there was anything the board could do to stop the recall effort, Looijen replied. said, “There absolutely is, they could resign.”
As for Lopez, she remains committed to educators and students alike.
“I understand people’s need to be activated and to push back against things they don’t agree with, and that’s what their right is and that’s what they’re doing now,” Lopez told the Radio Teco podcast. “I will continue to focus on where we are as a board, where we need to be and help us lead the school district in a way that gets all of our students to feel joy and to be excited about learning, whether they choose to do it in person or they want to remain in distance learning.”