Posted on June 24, 2022

San Francisco School Board Reverses Vote on Mural Removal

Zachary Small, New York Times, June 23, 2022

A school board’s decision in 2019 to remove a mural of George Washington that includes depictions of enslaved Black people and Native Americans set off a national debate about how American historical figures should be represented in educational settings.

The mural, inside a San Francisco high school, will remain on display after the city’s school board voted 4 to 3 on Wednesday in favor of rescinding a previous effort to remove it from view. The decision came several months after a February recall vote changed the makeup of the school board, which many parents had accused of prioritizing cultural debates over the challenges of educating students during the pandemic.

The school board’s original goal of removing the 1,600-square-foot painting, titled “Life of Washington,” also faced an uphill battle in the courts. Last year, a state judge ruled in a lawsuit that officials had violated California law by neglecting to conduct an environmental review of their plan.

In the 1930s, a Russian immigrant named Victor Arnautoff began painting frescoes inside George Washington High School {snip}

Almost a century later, some parents wanted to shield their students from images of death and slavery on their way to class. When the school board voted on their removal in 2019 — first to cover, and later to conceal the paintings — critics argued that erasing Arnautoff’s depiction of the Colonial era was the equivalent of book burning.