Editorial: Calls of revenge hit California schools. it doesn’t help

Judging by the number of recall campaigns against school boards this year, there are some very angry parents. According to Ballotpedia, a non-partisan election tracker, 67 school recall efforts were launched nationwide in 2021, targeting 174 board members. That’s dozens more than in any year going back to at least 2009; in fact, more than twice as many officials are under fire as in any of those years.

And get this: One-third of recall moves are in California. The 22 campaigns went after 48 board members. Three of the five trustees at the Fairfax Elementary School District in Bakersfield were targeted for “poor leadership, self-interest and vindictive behavior”, as part of a recall effort led by an incumbent who lost his seat in the 2020 election. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, the complaints allege fiscal irresponsibility, lack of transparency and conflict of interest. In the school district of West Sonoma County Union High School, parents sued three board members over the consolidation of two high schools.

But most of the effort revolves around the frustration that school districts did not reopen campuses for in-person instruction before the end of the 2020-21 school year. It’s part and parcel of the recall fever that has unsuccessfully targeted Governor Gavin Newsom, in large part because of his COVID-19 policies, which some Californians viewed as overly cautious.

Most recall attempts at school are unlikely to be successful as well, at least if history serves as a predictor. In many cases, these efforts fail because they fail to collect enough signatures for a petition. As of Thursday, only 14 of 22 California recall attempts were still in progress; most of the others have failed. A few targeted officials have resigned, but no one has been recalled so far.

Nonetheless, they create disruption and bad feelings, and the vast majority of those at stake now relate solely or primarily to the reopening of schools. This is an incorrect use of the callback mechanism.

As we said about Newsom’s recall effort, recalls shouldn’t be seen as a chance to revisit a previous election when some voters didn’t like the outcome. They also shouldn’t be used because some people didn’t like some decisions that were made. We agree with many supporters of the recall of schools that districts were far too hesitant to reopen classrooms. We were also frustrated with how few students were learning by video, with dramatically reduced teaching hours, and how politicians ignored the science that students could safely return to class.

But school boards were also grappling with risky situations. They feared that they would be held responsible if students or staff were seriously ill. We were still in a learning mode about COVID-19, and in some ways we still are. In addition, some teachers’ unions were more adamant than others on openness. If a lot of teachers just refused to go back to class, what was the district supposed to do, fire them all when there was no one to replace them? With no state mandate to reopen once infection rates fell to certain levels, unions held most of the cards.

Even though school board members made a bad decision, it is simply a bad decision, not an act of wrongdoing. If voters don’t like what the elected board members have done, they’re free to vote for someone else next time.

The dismissal of the members of the board of directors would not change the future either. The kids are back to school, and this time officials and teachers’ unions seem determined to keep it that way if possible. Given the success of the Los Angeles Unified School District in taking extraordinary steps to reduce and contain infections, classrooms should be able to stay open. At this point, reminding school board members about COVID-19 decisions that are now moot is simply revenge.

That’s not to say that all current school recall campaigns fall into this category. Supporters of a campaign to oust three members of the San Francisco Unified School District board of directors cite the reopening as a source of discontent. But they’re also motivated by a ridiculously botched effort to rename schools, which included downright inaccurate information – the kind no history teacher would tolerate on the part of students.

On top of that, it turned out that one of the three targeted board members, Alison Collins, had posted disparaging and stereotypical tweets about Asian Americans a few years before her election. When these were discovered earlier this year, Collins tried the old excuse of “comments taken out of context” – although they weren’t taken out of context – instead of apologizing loudly. .

Stripped of her vice-chair of the board, Collins then turned around and sued the district and the other board members, though her lawsuit was quickly dismissed by the court.

In a school district like San Francisco, where 30% of the students are of Asian descent, it’s understandable that many parents don’t trust Collins to represent the interests of all students. And Collins’ actions against the school district she’s supposed to support and improve prove that she is a problematic presence at a time when it’s especially important for schools to function as well as possible. To her credit, she was trying to act against the anti-Latino and anti-black racism which is, indeed, a problem in schools, but fighting it with more racism as well as destructive prosecutions is unacceptable.

Allegations of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District recall campaign fall more into the category of continued discontent over key issues that could constitute a legitimate effort against the board. This involves allegations of ongoing unnecessary spending, including overspending on administrative offices as well as conducting public affairs in private in violation of open meeting laws.

The three targeted council members dispute the allegations. But supporters of the recall also accuse one of the three of violating the state’s political reform law by voting for contracts that have benefited clients of her husband’s political advice, a Times investigation. revealed in 2017. An investigation by the district attorney’s office ultimately concluded that there were too few. evidence to prosecute charges – and the targeted school board member Maria Leon-Vazquez was re-elected for her sixth term in 2020.

The prize for the weirdest school recall campaign of 2021 belongs to the Mount Diablo Unified School District in the Bay Area, which has sought to topple the five board members in part on the grounds that they have failed to adopt and oversee a sustainable budget. But board member Keisha Nzewi pointed out that the district’s 2020 budget was passed before her election and that the recall campaign had targeted her even before she had a chance to vote on it. a 2021 budget.

Perhaps the constituents in the district were paying attention; the campaign never collected enough signatures to go on the ballot.

Recalls are important and powerful tools of democracy that should only be invoked in cases of extraordinary wrongdoing. This year’s trend raises concerns that relatively small and angry segments of parents are making a habit of throwing reminders whenever they don’t like an important board decision.

Could 2022 become another year of recall attempts, this time on the adoption of ethnic studies programs, which opponents continue to distort? No controversial decision will make everyone happy – which is why they are called controversial. But callbacks weren’t meant to be an outlet for the losing side to start cutting heads.

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