SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — A student government election at a mostly Hispanic San Francisco middle school turned into a debate about the democratic process when the principal delayed the results because the winners did not reflect the school’s diverse student body.
Everett Middle School Principal Lena Van Haren announced the winners on Monday, more than a week after the results were known. She said in a phone interview that she had no intention of annulling the votes, but wanted to first engage all the candidates in a discussion about how to ensure underrepresented groups were heard.
One idea was to add representatives to the student council, she said.
“I apologized to parents for causing any anxiety,” she said. “I was never planning on changing the elections.”
The school of about 500 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders is 56 percent Hispanic or Latino and 9 percent African-American, according to data on the California Department of Education website. The school is in the city’s Mission District, where rents have soared as technology workers move in and gentrify the neighborhood.
Van Haren said African-Americans and Latinos were underrepresented among the students who became president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and representatives for the three grades. Most of the Hispanic or Latino students at the school are native Spanish speakers, but that group was not represented in the winners, she said.
“I feel really strongly that it’s not just about having a diverse student council so it looks nice,” she said. “I, as principal, want to elevate student voices and see how they are experiencing school. If I’m missing certain groups, I’m not going to get a clear picture.”
Todd David, whose son, Noah, is an eighth-grader at the school, said the principal undermined the democratic process in the name of social justice.
“I think it sends an unfortunate message to students when you say that the people you elected, they’re not representative of you even though you’re the ones who chose them,” he said.
The flap started with an email Van Haren sent to parents last Wednesday telling them the results had come in, but they did not reflect “the diversity that exists at Everett.” She invited all the candidates to meet with school leadership before deciding the next step.
“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 wrote.
Melissa Daar Carvajal, whose twin sons are sixth-graders at Everett, said Van Haren may have been wrong to delay announcing the election results, but her goal of making it a lesson about ensuring all people are represented was right. The election reflects the fact that some students don’t have adequate resources and support to run and win elections, she said.
“I think it’s gotten people talking,” she said. “I’d like to see them act. I’d like to see them go into the school and support the kind of democracy we all want.”
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