School board candidates
express support for LGBT students
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education is without an LGBT member, and that won't change after the November 6 election as there are no out people running. But nine of the candidates who responded to a questionnaire from the Bay Area Reporter expressed strong support for LGBT students.
Backing restorative justice, finding more money, and closing the achievement gap were also among the most common themes from the candidates. There are 11 people running for four seats to oversee the school district, which has a budget of $597 million.
Sandra Lee Fewer, 55, is one of three incumbents in the race. Fewer, who was elected to the board in 2008, said during those years, "I have been the lead on LGBTQQ issues."
"We have a lot of work to do to change the culture of SFUSD schools" around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning issues, she told the B.A.R. "Our data tells us that LGBTQQ youth are three to four times more likely to be truant, harassed, bullied and sadly, contemplate suicide. Clearly, we must respond."
Among other achievements, Fewer authored a resolution "to recommit to anti-discrimination" of students. That resulted in the creation of a high school class on the history of the LGBT civil rights movement and included family diversity and gender identity in the district's health curriculum, she said.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
Incumbent Rachel Norton, 46, who was also elected to the board in 2008, works part-time as a communications consultant and advocate for families seeking insurance coverage for autism treatment.
In a phone interview, Norton said even though she's an incumbent, "It's a competitive field. It's absolutely a competitive field. You never want to be overconfident."
In her B.A.R. questionnaire, Norton said as a result of her advocacy, the school board has "launched a major redesign of programs and services for students with disabilities, and vastly expanded opportunities for mainstreaming."
She also wants to see full funding for the district's LGBT student support programs.
Incumbent Jill Wynns, 64, also expressed support for such services.
"The support and expansion of our Support Services for LGBTQ Youth is a high priority for me," she said.
There is one open seat on the board, as Norman Yee's term is up and he opted to run for supervisor in District 7. As a result, the school board will have at least one new member after the election.
Among those running is Sam Rodriguez, 52, the legislative chair of the San Francisco District Parent Teacher Association. He was assistant director of science education at the U.S. Department of Energy.
"I think I can make a significant difference, especially in terms of what I bring to the table with my very comprehensive view of the relationship between local, state, and federal systems in terms of bringing more resources to San Francisco for education, and specifically for science, math, and technology," Rodriguez said in an interview.
In his questionnaire, Rodriguez suggested he'd like to see technology help students who are being bullied. He said he's in favor of exploring a pilot program to provide students who feel with a service-directed cell equipped with a special chip that would immediately communicate with the nearest counselor or administrator to respond.
Restorative justice, a term that can be used to refer to finding alternative forms of punishment rather than expulsion or suspension, was mentioned specifically by most candidates. The approach is already supported in the district.
Matt Haney, 30, was a member of the Restorative Justice Task Force, where he worked with other community members and SFUSD staff.
"Restorative practices is ... a critical paradigm shift in our schools that will hopefully reduce bullying and harassment in our schools," he said.
In response to a question about Senate Bill 48, which became law this year and requires students be taught about the historical contributions of LGBT Americans and people with disabilities, among others, Gladys Soto, 48, said she isn't sure what's taught regarding those specific communities. However, Soto, who's a member of the SFUSD Bilingual Citizens Advisory Committee, said she'd like San Francisco's public school students to learn about "the fight for social justice in the LGBT community and the history of the AIDS epidemic and the tragedy that occurred in the early days of the virus."
Victoria Lo, 24, serves on the board of Lyon-Martin Health Services, which provides health care to women and transgender people. Since 2011, she's volunteered to identify and recruit talented high school students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which she's a graduate.
Lo said, "There should also be an increase in basic medical, mental health, and therapy services so all students, including LGBT students, can receive the health care that they need."
Seeking more funding was another topic that came up in the questionnaires.
Shamann Walton, 37, the school readiness coordinator and director of the Potrero Hill Family Resource Center, said he'd work with Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors "to develop a system of garnering resources from developer revenues in San Francisco for the schools. Billions of dollars are coming to San Francisco through development projects."
Like many other candidates, Kim Garcia-Meza, 45, addressed the student achievement gap. Garcia-Meza, who was a public school teacher for over 10 years, said, "Choosing a [San Francisco] public school for any child in this city should not be a hard choice. It should be about programmatic differences and uniqueness of a school, not how neglected or under-resourced a school community is."