After causing a political firestorm with comments that stereotyped marginalized students, Ann Hsu has made no indication that she plans to resign from the San Francisco school board.
Though Hsu declined to comment on the matter, several sources who have talked to her say she’s resisting calls from public officials and community groups to step down. And come fall, she plans to run in the election to keep the seat Mayor London Breed appointed her to after voters recalled three San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Board of Education members this February.
The controversy started a week ago after Hsu’s answer to a candidate questionnaire blew up on social media. When asked in the survey how SFUSD can improve academic outcomes for marginalized students, Hsu said she sees “one of the biggest challenges as being the lack of family support for those students” in the “Black and brown” community.
Hsu immediately apologized, saying her statements “reflected my own limited experiences and inherent biases.” But her public display of contrition didn’t convince many in the community.
A Community Divided
San Francisco’s Asian community is deeply divided on whether Hsu should resign—the only two Asian Americans on the Board of Supervisors couldn’t even see eye to eye on the issue.
Connie Chan, an outspoken progressive supervisor representing the city’s Richmond District, was among the first to ask Hsu to leave the school board.
“I am disappointed and disheartened by Commissioner Ann Hsu's anti-Black and racist statements,” Chan wrote in a tweet last week asking Hsu to step down so the district can “get back on track.”
Supervisor Gordon Mar thought otherwise.
The Sunset District representative said Hsu should follow through on her commitments to African American and Latino families and stay on the board. If voters want her gone, Mar said they can vote for someone else to succeed her this fall.
Mar said he believes Hsu was sincere in her apology because “she promised to learn from her mistakes and repair the harm.”
A month ago, Mar also supported Ulloa Elementary School Principal Carol Fong after she apologized for using a racial slur while cautioning students against using it.
Asian community groups have expressed similarly polarized opinions about how Hsu should handle the controversy.
The API Council—a powerful coalition of over 50 Asian community nonprofits in San Francisco—issued a statement condemning Hsu’s remark and urging her to resign last week. “As an organization that stands in solidarity with communities of color, these comments are unacceptable and unbecoming of a leader,” it read.
The council’s statement promptly elicited backlash from a couple of its nonprofit members, some of whom publicly questioned why the umbrella organization would take the position without consulting its affiliates.
Doug Chan, board president of the Chinese Historical Society of America, a member of the API Council, said it “would be wholly inappropriate” for a nonprofit like this to be included in a statement either opposing or supporting a candidate for political office. Doing so would violate laws prohibiting nonprofits from political advocacy.
The Rotary Club of San Francisco Chinatown, a humanitarian services group, confirmed to The Standard that it withdrew its membership from the API Council over its statement.
Should She Stay Or Should She Go?
This wasn’t the first time the API Council called for a school board member to step down in the wake of controversial remarks.
A year ago, when racially inflammatory tweets by SFUSD board member Alison Collins resurfaced, the API Council urged her to call it quits, too. Collins was one of three board members recalled by voters.
When Hsu’s controversial questionnaire comments began making the rounds on social media this past week, they garnered sharp criticisms from a wide range of groups urging her to resign, including the NAACP local branch, African American Parent Advisory Council, SF Black Wallstreet, San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club, United Educators of San Francisco and San Francisco Young Democrats.
“There is no space for any appointed or elected official to endorse and perpetuate white supremacist beliefs that purport racial inferiority of any community in our City," SF Black Wallstreet tweeted.
The majority of those organizations did not support calls for the resignation of Collins, instead asking for a "restorative process" and unity.
Other than Chan, multiple supervisors also joined the call urging Hsu to step down, including Board president Shamann Walton, Ahsha Safai, Hillary Ronen, and Dean Preston. With the exception of Preston, all of the supervisors signed a joint letter and called for Collins to step down last year.
But on Hsu’s side, her fellow recall activists and Mayor Breed came to her defense, saying she apologized for what she said and vowed to learn from her mistake.
The Asian American community was a driving force for the school board recall led in part by Hsu, who promoted the effort in televised campaign ads.
Angela Zhou, a member of the Chinese Parent Advisory Council and an activist for last year’s school board recall, told The Standard that she and her group will “use everything” to support Hsu “until the last drop of their blood.”
“Hsu has apologized for her insensitive word choices,” Zhou said.
She said she and other committee members trust Hsu’s good intentions and leadership to help the marginalized students she mentioned in her controversial statement.
Siva Raj, who launched the recall campaign, took to Twitter to say he’s “confident” Hsu will emerge from this controversy as a better leader.
The San Francisco Democratic Party board, which called for Collins’ resignation last year, plans to vote on Wednesday on whether to formally urge Hsu to resign as well.
Han Li can be reached at [email protected]