There’s a bit of controversy surrounding student elections at a San Francisco middle school after the results were immediately withheld by the principal because they weren’t diverse enough.
The incident happened at Everett Middle School in San Francisco’s Mission District. The voting was held Oct. 10, but the principal sent an email to parents on Oct. 14 saying the results would not be released because the candidates that were elected as a whole do not represents the diversity that exists at the school….
According to Principal Lena Van Haren, Everett Middle School has a diverse student body. She said 80 percent of students are students of color and 20 percent are white, but the election results did not represent the entire study body.
“That is concerning to me because as principal I want to make sure all voices are heard from all backgrounds,” Van Haren said….
“We’re not nullifying the election, we’re not cancelling the election and we’re not saying this didn’t count,” Van Haren said.
She said the school may possibly add positions in an effort to be more equal.
“I’m very hopeful this can be a learning experience and actually be something that embodied our vision which is to help students make positive change,” she added.
Well, the children’s voices were heard. They just seemed to be less obsessed with race than some administrators are. And exactly what “learning experience” would the children get this way, whether about racial tolerance or democracy?
I’m inclined to say, by the way, that attempting to “add positions in an effort to be more equal” by (presumably) filling them with children of a particular race would likely violate the Equal Protection Clause and federal civil rights law. And even if one can somehow argue that such an action is “narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest” in supposed “diversity,” it violates the California Constitution’s categorical ban on “discriminat[ing] against, or grant[ing] preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race … in the operation of … public education.” (Disclosure: I was a legal advisor to the 1996 campaign to add that provision to the California Constitution.) But the problems with the principal’s action, I think, were much deeper than just the fact that it’s unconstitutional.
In any event, as of this afternoon it appears that the school has changed course; here is a statement from the principal:
Everett Middle School is honoring the results of the Associated Student Body (ASB) elections. This is our first student council at Everett Middle School in recent history and we started up a student council because we want our students to have several ways to develop their leadership skills and be a part of shaping our school. We want a student leadership body that includes the range of perspectives and experiences of our students and we believe a representative body is an important part of democracy.
When we reviewed the results of our Associated Student Body (ASB) elections on Friday, October 9th, we saw that it was not fully representative of our school population. I made the decision to pause on sharing the results with the students in order to capitalize on a teachable moment. I wanted to have a conversation with all of the candidates and ask for their ideas to make sure that all voices and groups are represented in our ASB. In retrospect, I understand how this decision to pause created concerns. Today I visited classrooms to announce the winners of the elections.
There are many challenges and opportunities that this situation surfaces. Especially now, at a time when our school and community’s population is undergoing demographic change, I believe that we have a responsibility to take these conversations seriously, appreciating both their complexity and their urgency. There are no easy answers, so I am looking forward to talking as a community about how we can grow and get better at this for the rest of the year and into next year.
Thanks to Greg Dwyer for the pointer.