October 20, 2015
An election where the winners are not diverse is against democracy.
Even if it’s at a middle school.
An election controversy has students and parents up in arms.
A middle school in San Francisco is refusing to tell kids the winners of the student body government election. It is because, as one student told KRON’s Justine Waldman, the principal does not like who won.
“I wanted to get more involved and change some things,” student Sebastian Kaplan said.
Kaplan is now involved in a slight controversy when all he wanted was to be his seventh grade representative at Everett Middle School in the Mission District.
“I feel like it is disrespectful to all the people who were running,” Kaplan said.
Sebastian said the results of the student government election, held on Oct. 10, have not come out yet. He and the other candidates were told this week it is because the principal believes the winners are not diverse enough.
“The organizers are saying things like, ‘we want everyone’s voice to be heard,’ but in truth, the voters’ voices are not being heard,” Kaplan said. “Most kids are in agreement that the results need to come out because kids worked really hard on it.”
While keeping the results secret, the principal told Sebastian the school could add positions to better reflect the student body.
When San Francisco middle school principal Lena Van Haren saw which kids on her campus had been elected to the student council, she was disturbed at the lack of diversity among the winners. There were no Latino or black candidates chosen for the top four spots.
Van Haren decided to withhold the results of the Oct. 9 election for more than a week, saying the school community needed to figure out how to have a more representative government.
“This is complex, but as a parent and a principal, I truly believe it behooves us to be thoughtful about our next steps here so that we can have a diverse student council that is truly representative of all voices at Everett,” she told parents in an e-mail Thursday.
“My criticism of the Everett administration is their good intention got in the way of their common sense,” said parent Todd David. “It’s really, really disturbing to me that withholding the results somehow equals social justice or equity. That is where I totally disconnect. I’m like, ‘Whoa.’”
There was never any intent to cancel the election or nullify the results, Van Haren said Monday.
“We paused to have a conversation,” she said in an interview. “I never, ever said we wouldn’t share the results or they weren’t good enough.
“This is middle school. It’s not a presidential election,” she said. “It was not about hurting democracy or putting diversity over democracy.”
“The thing that’s so frustrating to me, as a parent and an engaged citizen, is you release the results and then you form committees,” David said. “How can you say, ‘In the name of social justice, we’re going to withhold election results’?”
Under pressure from parents and the district administration, the principal announced the election results Monday afternoon, going class to class with the information.
While there was some diversity among the 10 winners, no English learners were elected, even though they make up about a third of enrollment. African American and Latino students were underrepresented, while white, Asian and mixed-race students, who are in the minority at the school, took the top four spots.
“It’s not OK for a school that is really, really diverse to have the student representatives majority white,” Van Haren said. “The easy thing would have been to announce the results and move on. I intentionally did not choose the easy way because this is so important.”
Several parents vocally supported their principal, saying she had touched on a critical concern.
After releasing the results, she admitted what she did was wrong.
Van Haren acknowledged Monday that while she stands behind her effort to increase diversity in student leadership, there was probably a better way to do it.
“Of course I look back and we should have communicated the winners right away,” she said. “I could never have predicted things would get to this point.
“I think,” she added, “it still can be a teachable moment.”
But that isn’t really an apology.
She needs to resign and go back to the kitchen where she belongs.