After defending the city’s public schools against a flurry of litigation over hot-button issues, San Francisco Unified School District’s legal counsel is stepping down.
The district’s general counsel for the last seven years, Danielle Houck, gave notice in late 2022 and will transition out over the next few weeks, SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick confirmed to The Standard.
Houck, who had previously served as general counsel for the Alameda and Oakland school districts, has guided the district and Board of Education through numerous legal challenges.
SFUSD was sued in 2019 over its decision to remove a controversial mural and, in 2021, over efforts to rename schools. Later that year, San Francisco sued its own school system over a plan to reopen schools. That November, a judge found that the district violated state open meeting laws when passing a resolution in February to end a controversial admissions policy at Lowell High School. After SF voters ousted three members of the Board of Education in a recall that became national news, the body reversed its decision in June 2022.
During Houck’s tenure, the district occasionally deployed innovative approaches when handling some of these legal challenges.To defray legal costs in the mural lawsuit, SFUSD used bond funds for facilities improvements. In a letter to the bond oversight committee, Houck argued that the mural “caused psychological harm to students,” presenting a health and safety risk covered by the bond program.
And in August, the attorney behind the suit over renaming schools threatened legal action over its decision to observe Muslim holidays at the urging of community advocates. Plans to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha remain on pause.
Houck is only the latest top administrator to leave the district in the past year. Superintendent Matt Wayne, who replaced Vincent Matthews in July, opted not to fill many open positions as he assessed restructuring the central office.
“Ms. Houck’s departure is unrelated to any organizational changes within the district,” Dudnick said in a statement. “We are very grateful for her years of service to the district.”
The district will retain outside legal help until a new general counsel is selected, Dudnick added.
Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected]