Michael Barba, San Francisco Examiner, May 6, 2016
An attempt to engineer diversity in student government at a public high school in San Francisco has drawn scrutiny from parents who claim faculty tried to replace an appointed student leader with another student because of his Latino last name.
For the first time, administrators at Raoul Wallenberg High School decided last September to forgo the democratic process in student elections and appoint members of the freshman class to most of the seats on the student council. The freshman president and all student leaders for other grade levels were still elected.
Part of the reasoning behind the change was to “encourage more diversity in our student leadership,” according to Principal Cheryl Foster, who responded to questions from the San Francisco Examiner through a district spokesperson.
But the attempt reportedly elicited outrage at a community meeting on April 28 from students who wanted the right to vote and parents like Christina Martinez, who said school officials tried to court her son, James Ortiz, 15, onto the student council because of his surname.
The practice could violate the San Francisco Unified School District’s student handbook, under which students have the right to a “free election of their peers in the student government.”
After it was announced that another student was selected for the vice president seat, Ortiz was called into the principal’s office on three occasions, his mother said. Faculty twice encouraged him to become freshman treasurer.
On the third occasion, Ortiz and the white student who was selected as vice president were both called into the office. Faculty then asked the appointed vice president to step down so that Ortiz could take her seat, which he declined.
“They were, like, bribing me into being on the student council,” said Ortiz, who, despite his last name, identifies as white. “It was basically a thanks, but no thanks.”
At the meeting last week, Foster reportedly admitted that freshmen were not allowed “a free and fair election,” according to Teresa Moeller, who runs communications for the Parent, Teacher, Student Association at Wallenberg.