Many of us were left scratching/shaking our heads in March after embattled school board member Alison Collins filed a 48-page lawsuit against SF Unified School District and her fellow school board members, demanding damages of $87 million and restoration of position as vice president of the board. Now a judge has tossed the suit before it had a hearing.
The drama on and around the San Francisco Board of Education over the past year has been next level, even as school boards and districts around the country have had to deal with pandemic shutdowns and the difficulties of distance learning. First you had the culmination of a multi-year effort to rename dozens of schools that was deemed a misplaced priority in the middle of a pandemic — and the school board ultimately relented on that after months of bad press.
But then amid an effort by some disgruntled parents and activists to recall three school board members, some old tweets resurface from board member Alison Collins that referred — some said offensively — to stereotypes about Asian Americans and used racial epithets about African Americans to talk about white supremacy and Donald Trump. The board subsequently took a vote of no confidence about Collins, and said she would be stripped of her title and committee positions. Also, Mayor London Breed called on Collins to resign.
But then along comes Collins's lawsuit, in which she and her attorneys include quotes, poetry, and a bunch of typos to suggest that her civil rights had been violated, her name besmirched, and her efforts to advocate for African American and Latino students silence. Also the suit demanded an injunction to restore her title and committee positions, and it sought $3 million each in punitive damages from her fellow board members, and $12 million in general damages from the district and from each of the five other board members as well. $87 million! Because they took her vice president title away!
At least a couple of legal experts dismissed the whole thing as a PR stunt — one told Mission Local that it was "an op-ed pretending to be a lawsuit."
And now a judge has dismissed it as well. As the Chronicle reports, Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. of the Federal District Court of Northern District of California tossed the suit today, days ahead of a scheduled hearing, saying no further arguments needed to be heard in it, and that the claims had no merit.
Collins is no doubt still upset, but she has not publicly commented on the judge's dismissal. And really, this whole thing didn't really help her public relations cause in the end — within five weeks of the lawsuit being filed, Chronicle columnist Heather Knight had dug around to find multiple school district employees who painted a picture of a difficult parent who would stop at nothing to hurt the careers of teachers who didn't fall in line with her directives.
One music and art teacher called Collins "a bully" and "her own worst enemy," and another marveled at the irony of her having destroyed the careers of several teachers and now suing over having her own career destroyed on the school board.
Say what you will about the tweets that led to this whole mess — Mission Local argued that they probably were taken out of context, as Collins said, and that they couldn't necessarily be called racist on their face, despite their use of stereotype language. None of this seems like to resolve itself fully anytime soon.
The effort to recall the three school board members including Collins is ongoing, and they said last week they had amassed 51,000 out of 70,000 needed signatures to qualify for the ballot. They believe they are on track to get the signatures in the next several weeks.