After a night of contentious debate that erupted in shouts and a hurried recess to calm the crowd, the San Francisco school board on Tuesday voted to admonish Ann Hsu over her comments stereotyping Black and Latino families.
Hsu cast one of the votes herself, making the decision by the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education a unanimous one—even if it was merely symbolic.
“I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry,” said Hsu, who was appointed to the seven-member board by Mayor London Breed.
Though conciliatory, Hsu rejected calls to resign on Tuesday, which marked her first appearance on the board since she made the offending comments last month.
“I look forward to getting back to the work that my colleagues and I committed to do,” she told the packed audience that showed up for the special meeting at SFUSD headquarters on Franklin Street Tuesday evening.
The controversy about Hsu stemmed from an answer to a candidate questionnaire. In the response, she said she sees one of the biggest challenges for the Black and brown students as a “lack of family support.”
Those words drew fierce backlash from families and local leaders, prompting a number of elected officials and community groups to demand that Hsu step down from the seat Breed appointed her to in the wake of a recall that ousted three other school board members.
Hsu quickly issued an apology, calling her comments a reflection of her personal blinders and vowing to learn from her mistake.
“We can and must overcome all such harmful biases and stereotypes,” Hsu said, “but canceling one another is not the way to do it.”
The board’s decision on Tuesday does nothing to diminish Hsu’s authority or standing on the board. Though she apologized for her remarks and agreed to the admonishment, she’s still actively campaigning for her board seat, which comes up for election this fall.
Mark Sanchez, a long-time school board member, said the formal admonishment doesn’t go far enough, so he plans to propose a vote of “no confidence” on Hsu in the future, which could involve consequences such as getting removed from committee assignments.
When years-old racially insensitive tweets by school board member Alison Collins surfaced in 2021, her colleagues responded more severely than voting to admonish her, opting to strip her of her board leadership position. Momentum from the backlash culminated in a February recall that cast Collins and two other colleagues from the board.
On Tuesday, a number of speakers invoked comparisons to the Collins saga during public comment.
Though SFUSD board President Jenny Lam limited public comment into just half an hour with 15 speakers for each side—pro- and anti-admonishment—the debate turned fiery. And the decision to limit discussion by attendees angered many because there were far more speakers than the 30 slots allotted.
The meeting went into total chaos so now President Jenny Lam called for recess pic.twitter.com/sb8l7IfsUh— Han Li 李晗 (@lihanlihan) August 3, 2022
During the public comment period, both sides voiced passionate opinions that erupted into shouting and arguments, prompting Lam to call a time-out to clear the room and give the audience a chance to collect itself.
The meeting was preceded by a demonstration joined by dozens of teachers and Black and Latinx community leaders urging Hsu to resign.
Rev. Arnold Townsend, a local NAACP leader who joined the rally, told reporters to “stay tuned” to find out how he and fellow activists would respond should Hsu refuse to give up her seat.
“You can’t say hurtful words,” he said. “We will take action.”
Han Li can be reached at [email protected]