Parents convened Tuesday to protest the San Francisco Unified School District’s decision to reassign an elementary school principal after she used a racist epithet while admonishing students who used the word in a fight.
Protesters organized by the Chinese Parent Advisory Council met outside the SFUSD headquarters to argue that district officials should not have removed Carol Fong from her longtime post at Ulloa Elementary School, where she worked for two decades.
Demonstrators said that, given the district’s emphasis on applying “restorative justice” to promote healing among students, it should extend the same practices to administrators like Fong. Advocates for Fong lined the steps of the school district building with signs reading “SF the face of Asian hate” and “transform not transfer.”
Organizers held the protest after collecting 27,000 letters supporting Fong.
The controversy stems from Jan. 27, when a fight broke out among fifth-graders at Ulloa. During that fight, one of the students used the N-word. And when Fong gathered a group of children to talk about why what they did and said was wrong, she repeated the same word.
According to an email from school staff, Fong later recounted the word again to an administrator when asked about the incident with students.
In a letter sent to parents this past weekend, she informed the school that Superintendent Matthews made the decision to involuntarily reassign her. That letter prompted parents to organize Tuesday’s protest.
“We are looking at this as a retaliation at teaching,” said Selena Chu, the mother of a third-grade student at Ulloa Elementary. “It was a teaching moment.”
Other protesters criticized what they called a lack of openness in the way the district handled Fong’s reassignment.
“The process is not transparent,” parent Kit Lam said.
Fong’s decades of experience and stellar reputation should have counted for something, Lam said.
“She already sincerely apologized,” Lam continued. “She had a flawless record. It’s going to hurt families, parents, and students who are English learners if Principal Fong is not returning next year.”
Other attendees Tuesday voiced support for Fong’s removal.
At the Board of Education meeting that took place after the protest, San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators President Virginia Marshall said she was saddened to see so many people come to the principal’s defense.
“We pay educators, principals to be the leaders of their school,” she said. “What about the harm done to this young boy, this young student, this fifth grader, this African American student? The word she used is so deplorable—it’s heinous, it’s evil, it is unacceptable.”
Ulloa Elementary School has nearly 80% Asian American students and less than 1% African American Students, according to SFUSD data.
After the school board’s recent decision to bring Lowell High School back to merit-based instead of lottery admissions—an issue that reflected divisions between Asian Americans and Black and Latino families in the district—Chinese American parent Lu Shan said she’s disappointed in SFUSD leaders and principals overall.
“I am really saddened,” she said, “that our voices are drowned out by the vocal members in our community to allow hatred to spread toward our Black, Latinx and other disadvantaged students.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Carol Fong repeated a slur in front of students once and later in a meeting with an administrator, according to school officials.
Questions, comments or concerns about this article may be sent to [email protected]