Liberal alarm bells go off in San Francisco

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD on February 24, 2022.

The grassroots movement of parents looking to reclaim control over their children’s education has been a long time in the making, but its moment has arrived. Whether driven by concerns over sex education, restroom policies, critical race theory, or responses to COVID, parents have grown frustrated by the education establishment’s systemic failure and are saying so. For months, the left has tried to convince us that resistance was limited to a fringe movement of frustrated white supremacists fueled by Fox News propaganda, but last week’s recall elections of three members of the San Francisco Board of Education make that narrative less plausible.

The vote wasn’t close—not by a long shot. More than 70 percent of San Franciscans voted to recall each of the three school board members. It seems the only reason more board members were not voted out is that they had not been in their seats long enough to be eligible for a recall.

There is no way to blame these results on a right-wing conspiracy because less than 6 percent of registered voters in San Francisco are Republicans, but that didn’t stop some observers from trying. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton said the recall was driven by “closet Republicans and most certainly folks with conservative values in San Francisco, even if they weren’t registered Republicans.” He even invoked former President Donald Trump, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “Trump’s election and bold prejudice brought a lot of that out, even in our Democratic and liberal city. There are a lot of people who do not want people of color making decisions in leadership.”

Is San Francisco the new home of the conservative heartland or are left-wing priorities alienating even the liberal voters in the City by the Bay? There has been no invasion of San Francisco by conservatives.

Much of the recent upheaval began in 2018, when San Francisco removed a 19th-century statue called Early Days from City Hall. Its depiction of California’s early settlement was deemed offensive. Following George Floyd’s death, statues of Christopher Columbus, Ulysses S. Grant, Junípero Serra, and Francis Scott Key were either removed or not replaced after protesters tore them down. In every case, there was opposition to the removals, but it didn’t matter. The purge was on.

The school board got in on the action shortly thereafter, identifying 44 schools they said needed renaming. Among them were schools named after Abraham Lincoln and naturalist John Muir. Lincoln freed the slaves and Muir, a conservationist, is often referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.” These days, almost no one is woke enough for the woke.

Notably, the school board reversed course in its renaming effort after significant public outcry, but the damage to its credibility had already been done. After all, while the board was busy trying to rename schools, San Francisco classrooms had been closed to students for all but six weeks out of the entire school year. Parents were openly questioning the board’s priorities.

Parents also questioned the judgment exercised by board members. While the effort to rename schools ultimately failed, the board succeeded in changing the formerly merit-based admissions policy at Lowell High School, the city’s most prestigious and rigorous secondary school. The decision was made to ensure that more black and Latino students were accepted and is consistent with the progressive belief that merit-based admission practices are inherently racist.

The new admissions standards at Lowell did not sit well with the city’s Asian American population, which is both a significant voting bloc and overrepresented in enrollment at Lowell. Nor did Asian Americans appreciate a series of tweets from 2016 that had recently surfaced, written by now-ousted school board member Alison Collins. Collins, who is black, went on a racist tirade against Asian Americans.

Despite all of this, the San Francisco school board recall elections were not just about the city’s schools. The perceived indifference to increased crime in San Francisco likely affected the mood of voters as well.

In any event, the recall of the three “progressive” school board members sends a loud and clear signal to the left. After all, if they’re losing San Francisco, they’re likely to be in trouble everywhere.