There are first world problems, and then there are San Francisco problems: for example, deciding whether or not a gay, white father of a multiracial daughter adds enough diversity to a volunteer parent committee filled with women.
That was the most recent head-scratcher for the San Francisco Board of Education, the same school board that voted 6-1 last month to scrub the names of such problematic Americans as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from local schools.
During Tuesday night’s board meeting, one of the items on the agenda involved the seemingly innocuous appointment of a new member to the volunteer Parent Advisory Council. The candidate was Seth Brenzel, a professional singer and the executive director of an acclaimed Bay Area summer music school. Brenzel also is openly gay, married and a father, according to an online bio. Attempts to reach him for comment on Wednesday were not successful.
Opposition to Brenzel’s appointment began even before the board officially brought it up for discussion. During a presentation on a Parent Advisory Council report, some board members and public speakers began questioning the lack of diversity on the council.
“They are not a diverse group of parents as far as I have seen, I have noticed and have observed,” said a woman who an online transcript of the meeting identifies only as Tara.
In response, a representative for the council presented a breakdown of the racial and ethnic makeup of the council: two African Americans parents, one Asian American parent, three “Latinx” parents, a Pacific Islander parent, and three white parents. “Currently all of those are women,” she said, according to the online transcript. “All of them are moms.”
Commissioner Matt Alexander, a new board member and former district principal, noted the “underrepresentation of Arab, Vietnamese, Native American folks” and “Chinese parents and Chinese-speaking parents.” Alexander, who identified himself as “the lone white board member here,” said it “seems like the white members are overrepresented on the P.A.C.” About 15 percent of students in the district are white, according to the district.
“I’m probably going to get complaints now I’m telling white parents not to be involved or something. I want to be clear, that’s not what I’m saying,” he said, according to the transcript, but then added, “White parents also in the city tend to have a lot of privilege and power and access the board of ed in various ways.”
Parents lined up to debate Brenzel’s candidacy once it was formally brought up for discussion.
One speaker said the council was not inclusive, and “does not even mirror Joe Biden’s cabinet.” Another, an “openly queer person of color,” said adding another white member to the council would be “really, really problematic,” and said that other “voices need to be heard first before white queer voices.”
“The San Francisco Unified School District was and still is operating under white supremacy,” another speaker added.
Several speakers stood up for Brenzel. One parent described him as a “fantastic leader,” inclusive and warm. Another noted he would be the only male on the council, and the only representative of the LGBTQ community, adding that “there is diversity beyond the color of our skin.” Another said Brenzel is “overly qualified if anything for this position. He’s ready to serve, and you should be grateful for his service.”
“I think this is just honestly just a political show so you can say that you stopped a white person from getting on (the council),” said another speaker, according to the transcript.
Another supporter of Brenzel, identified in the transcript only as Cindy, called the hearing a “public shaming” and “bullying behavior by people of power.”
“You just talked about not being enough dads in the group,” the woman said. “He is a gay father of – he has a mixed race family. I don’t know what more you need to just – he’s a good person. That’s all I have to say.”
The debate ended up taking up two hours, as noted by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight. She pointed out that seven hours into the meeting there had been no discussion about safely reopening San Francisco schools.
The SF school board tonight spent two hours talking about whether to allow a gay dad of mixed-race SFUSD kids to volunteer for one of several empty seats on a parent advisory group. Their problem was that he’s white and doesn’t bring diversity to the group. 1/2
— Heather Knight (@hknightsf) February 10, 2021
The opening that Brenzel had been tapped to fill is not the only open seat on the council, according to a representative at the meeting. The council is approved for 15 regular members and three alternates. It currently has only ten regular members and no alternates, so there is room to add additional diverse candidates with or without Brenzel.
Ultimately, the school board decided against voting on Brenzel’s appointment at all, and instead urged council representatives to find additional candidates for consideration.