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School board commissioner votes to 'admonish' herself after backlash over 'racist' comments

In a special public meeting held directly for this purpose, San Fransisco Board of Education Commissioner Ann Hsu voted to admonish herself.

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Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
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San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Anna Hsu is running to keep her seat amid growing controversy. After recent comments of hers surfaced, calls for her resignation reached a fever pitch, and the San Francisco Unified School District held a special meeting to vote to admonish Hsu for the statements.

In a twist that can only be described as one with overtones of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, McCarthyist, and Orwellian, Hsu voted to admonish herself, as well. The San Francisco school board was already in turmoil after recall elections this year took three members, one of whom was cited for making racist comments against Asian Americans. Hsu was appointed by Mayor London Breed.

At issue is an answer Hsu submitted in advance of the November election to the Parent Action form for candidates on the question "How can SFUSD increase academic outcomes for the most marginalized students?"

In response, Hsu said "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."

San Francisco's schools are notoriously bad, even in the state of California, for having remarkably low test scores for black and brown minority students. As noted in 2017, only 19 percent of those students had passed state tests in reading, compared to 31 percent of that demographic statewide.

Hsu responded to the backlash with requisite apologies, saying:

"Last week, I submitted my candidate questionnaire to SF Parent Action. After hearing feedback from the community, I revised one of my answers to reflect a deeper understanding of the challenges facing BIPOC students.

"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. I want to be absolutely clear about two things:

"First, I believe that the institutional racism that is deeply embedded in our society harms students and their families.

"I believe that problems like generational poverty, food insecurity & housing insecurity–which disproportionally affect our BIPOC families, due to systemic racism & inequality–make it harder for children to learn, harder for families to function, harder for teachers to teach.

"Second, in trying to convey my thoughts on this subject, I misspoke. My statements reflected my own limited experiences and inherent biases. I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry. I am committed to listening, learning and growing as a person.

"I’ve heard valuable feedback from BIPOC families and will be prioritizing and centering their voices in my work on the BOE through listening sessions and community outreach as we move forward.

"I am committed to doing better and being held accountable, just as I will hold SFUSD accountable for improving outcomes for all students."

And in a public meeting, she apologized further, saying that she "unintentionally perpetuated harmful stereotypes. I made a mistake, and I'm deeply sorry."

And in a special public meeting held directly for this purpose, she voted to admonish herself.

The San Francisco Unified School District held that:

"Commissioner Ann Hsu recently made written statements that, in the judgment of Board leadership, undermine and run counter to this Board's belief that we as a District are most responsible when our students fail, and that all students can succeed regardless of their race, zip code, income level, or any other factor. Commissioner Hsu’s comments to the contrary are hurtful and perpetuate harmful stereotypes."

The SFUSD noted what those comments were, then said that "Shortly after issuing this statement, Commissioner Hsu issued an apology and stated her commitment to listen and learn as important first steps for restoring the community’s trust.

"Commissioner Hsu's comments come at a time when the Board is in the process of reforming its behaviors and processes to produce better outcomes for students. At this Special Meeting, the Board will discuss, consider and decide whether to admonish Commissioner Hsu for these statements or take other action, as appropriate."

The Board, in essence, took the responsibility for student failures and successes on their own shoulders entirely,

Local paper Mission Local said that Hsu's remarks were "pinning Black and Latinx students’ poorer outcomes on bad parenting" and "putting the onus back on students and their families." Mission Local declared that Hsu had said "that Black and Latinx parents don't care about their children."

ABC affiliate KQUED said her remarks were "racially insensitive," further saying that Hsu's statement "reinforced racist stereotypes about Black and brown families." The Democratic Party of San Francisco is calling for her resignation. The SF Latinx Democratic Club, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, the SF Labor Council, the African American Parent Advisory Council, and the Asian and Pacific Islander Council, among others, all backed calls for Hsu's resignation. The NAACP is also calling for her voluntary removal.

The NAACP statement read: "Her comments indicate a profound disconnect between Hsu and the Black community and blame the effects of systemic racism on the targets of that racism.

"Hsu’s explanation to us concerning her statements was that she has very limited knowledge of Black people, and that she is a scientist by profession, not a politician. These reasons not only ring hollow but are illogical on their face. Scientists gather empirical evidence to disprove a theory before stating it as fact. Yet she chose to make shockingly false statements about Black students and families while having no meaningful knowledge about them."

KQUED unearthed additional comments Hsu had made, such as when she noted that her son enjoyed online learning because "he didn't have to deal with riff-raff." This was considered a racist comment, per KQUED, despite it not being a comment on any race of person in particular, which leads

Hsu, an Asian American immigrant who worked for two decades in tech, was appointed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed after three school board members were ousted in a recall election for their insistence on renaming "racist" schools, including Abraham Lincoln High School. Lincoln, of course, ended slavery in the United States.

Much of the effort behind that recall was by Asian American parents and families. Hsu remains on the November ballot.

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