The San Francisco Unified School District said it will investigate claims that an Arab and Muslim advocacy group violated policy by helping organize pro-Palestine student walkouts.
The K-12 district affirmed the plan Friday in a letter to SF Guardians—the parent group behind last year's recall of three SFUSD board members and filed this week's complaint about the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, known as AROC.
In the letter, SFUSD Head of Staff Marin Trujillo says the district won't immediately terminate its agreement with AROC, but that it will spend the next month determining whether the group broke district rules by encouraging students to skip class, engage in activism and promote anti-Israel messages during recent protests.
"If the allegations are substantiated in whole or in part, we will determine the appropriate response and determine the next steps," Trujillo wrote in the memo shared with The Standard. "Given the number of schools involved and detailed list of allegations, we anticipate that we will be able to report back to you within the next 30 days."
SF Guardians cofounders Siva Raj and Autumn Looijen made their case for an investigation in an eight-page complaint accusing AROC of flouting three provisions of its agreement with SFUSD.
For one, they argue that AROC violated a clause barring service providers from interfering with classroom work or disrupting normal school activities. SF Guardians say AROC also flouted an anti-discrimination clause by encouraging students to protest Zionism and the state of Israel.
Finally, they claim AROC used confidential student data to rally student support for the pro-cease-fire walkouts, which took place at Balboa, Galileo, Mission, John O’Connell, George Washington, Ida B. Wells, June Jordan, Lincoln, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Lowell high schools.
"Regardless of your position on this international conflict, we hope we can all agree on some basic principles," Raj and Looijen conclude in their complaint. "In particular, political organizations—especially those contracted by the school district and given privileged access to our children—should not be in our schools organizing children to do political work and disrupting our children’s safe learning environment. And no one should be allowed to blatantly violate their contract without consequences."
AROC declined to address the details of the allegations but defended its work with student protesters.
"AROC absolutely supported the students who decided to walk out on Oct. 18 demanding a cease-fire and an end to the mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli government," AROC Executive Director Lara Kiswani wrote in an emailed statement to The Standard. "We are appalled by the racist attacks they have faced since speaking out against genocide."
Kiswani said AROC welcomes the conversation inspired by the student activism.
"And we were grateful to be in dialogue with the district, parents, and teachers about this brave act of civil disobedience—the same type of action that is taught in the history books of our schools, rightful celebrating the bold initiative of those who struggle for racial justice, for social justice and for peace," she continued. "We couldn't be prouder of the youth and students of our community, and look forward to supporting their future leadership and civic engagement."
SFUSD's 16-page agreement with AROC says the group is under contract through 2026 to provide cultural empowerment and leadership workshops and academic support and to ensure that cultural and linguistic needs are met at nine San Francisco high schools.
Raj stressed that his group's contention isn't with students who want to speak out about things that matter to them but with adults who used an ostensibly neutral relationship with public schools to recruit children in activist causes.
"We want to make sure that the kids don't become foot soldiers for their politics," Raj told The Standard in a phone call late Friday. "We want to make sure that we respect the boundaries in exactly these kinds of situations."
SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick declined to say how much money AROC gets from the city's K-12 schools, instead directing The Standard to a general landing page about the process for securing a memorandum of understanding with the district.
When asked for comment about the SF Guardian complaint, she said, "It is our priority to ensure students and staff feel safe and supported in schools. We will provide a response once we have had a chance to carefully review the letter."
Raj applauded SFUSD for looking into the matter.
"We appreciate their taking our concerns seriously," he said, "and committing to a swift investigation."
Joel Umanzor contributed to this report.