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San Francisco Ousts School Board Members

This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in US education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Today: San Francisco voting oust school board members. A sexual harassment case at Harvard exposes the messy realities of Title IX complaints. And, some pretty on-the-nose life advice from a kindergartner.

San Francisco voters assisted three members of the Board of Education on Tuesday, a victory for parents angered by the district’s priorities during the pandemic.

Data released by the district suggests that remote learning hurt Black and Latino students the most in San Francisco, as it did across the country.

But instead of focusing on reopening classrooms for in-person learning, the district spent time deciding whether to rename a third of its schools last year.

That effort was botched and in some cases historically inaccurate. The 44 public schools in question carry the names of a range of historical figures including Abraham Lincoln; Senator Dianne Feinstein; John Muir, the naturalist and author; and Paul Revere, the Revolutionary War figure.

“It’s the people up in revolt in San Francisco and saying it’s rising to abandon your responsibility to educate our children,” said Siva Raj, a San Francisco parent of public school students who helped lead the effort to put the recall election on the ballot .

The recall also appeared to be a demonstration of Asian American electoral power.

In echoes of debates in other cities, many Chinese voters were incensed when the school board changed the admission system for the district’s most prestigious institution, Lowell High School. It abolished requirements based primarily on grades and test scores, instead implementing a lottery system.

Criticism of the board grew stronger when voters discovered tweets written by the board’s vice president, Alison Collins, one of the three ousted members. In them, she said Asian Americans were like slaves who benefited from working inside a slave owner’s house.

David Lee, a political science lecturer at San Francisco State University, said the combination of the tweets and the changes to the admission policies at Lowell had empowered Asian Americans.

“It’s been an opportunity for the Chinese community to flex its muscles,” he said. “The community is reasserting itself.”

Last Tuesday, three female graduate students at Harvard filed a lawsuit accusing the university of ignoring allegations that an anthropology professor had sexually harassed students for years.

The fallout has been swift and intense.

The next day, nearly all of the 38 professors who had signed an open letter defending John Comaroff, the accused professor, reversed course. After criticism, they issued a new letter, “We Retract,” saying they had initially lacked full information about the case.

The university also faces widespread public outcry for how it handled the investigation, mandated by federal law, into the professor’s conduct.

According to the lawsuit, Harvard obtained notes from one of the graduate student’s psychotherapy sessions without her consent and shared them with Comaroff, whom she had accused of kissing, hugging and groping her.

Lawyers for the graduate student, Lilia Kilburn, said she provided the name of her psychotherapist to Harvard, but said she did not consent to the university obtaining those records.

The university said it could not discuss her case specifically without breaching confidentiality, and provided only background information on what it typically does in such cases. Harvard said it would contact a therapist only if a patient said the therapist had relevant information — and then only with consent.

Harvard also said that the parties to a dispute were told that information would be shared with both sides, and that if they were not willing to share it, they should not submit it. This is standard practice under Title IX, the federal education law that mandates investigations into sexual harassment claims, said Brett Sokolow, a lawyer and president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, who is unconnected to the case.

Comaroff, through his lawyers, has denied any misconduct. In its investigation, Harvard found that he had violated sexual and gender-based harassment policies, but did not find him responsible for unwanted sexual contact.

It’s a difficult, upsetting case, and in this tangle of charges and claims lies a messy reality: The Title IX process is complex, and blamers don’t always understand the rules or the repercussions of their decisions.

Since so many people make claims without a lawyer, as Kilburn initially did, they rely on universities to guide them.

University officials “are often thinking about protecting the school, not protecting the client,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

Caplan said it’s unclear whether the university should have pursued the records in the first place.

“That’s very murky in terms of consent, because she’s pressured, she’s vulnerable,” he said. “Does she really know what she’s turning over?”

“I’m not even sure if you said it was OK to share it, that it would be OK to do it anyway,” Caplan added.


And the rest…

Clark Todebush, 5, struggled with the transition to kindergarten. Here is some of Clark’s advice for coping with anxiety, accompanied by a few brief explanations for context from his mother.

“You gotta say your affirmations in your mouth and your heart.”

“Another mom on Twitter talked about saying affirmations with their kid before school. We tried it. Sometimes I tell him, ‘Say it like you mean it.’ I guess he translated that.”

“You say, ‘I am brave of this meeting! I am loved! I smell good!””

“He knows you can be scared of something, so he talks about being brave of things. I love the grammatical construction. I’ve never corrected it because I like it better. I don’t know where the ‘I smell good’ came up, but I like it. I’m going to use it a lot.”

“Even if it’s a yucky day, you can get a hug.”

“There have been so many times when there’s nothing I can do. I tell him, ‘Even if it’s a bad day, when you get home, I’ll hug you.’”

That’s it for this week’s briefing. If you have questions for our education reporters, please write to us using this form. We will regularly answer questions in the newsletter.

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