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SF Board of Education rescinds 1906 resolution that excluded Asians from “normal” schools

Press Release

Last night, the San Francisco Board of Education (BOE) formally rescinded a BOE resolution dating back to 1906 that excluded children of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ancestry from normal schools and restricted them to an “Oriental School.”

“The 1906 board resolution reflected an extremely racist time when the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League vilified Asians and anti-Chinese sentiment reached new heights,” said Commissioner Emily Murase, who co-authored the resolution. Murase is the first Japanese American to serve on the school board. Commissioner Stevon Cook, the newest member of the school board, co-authored the resolution with Murase and all BOE commissioners asked to signed on.

In its early history, district actions led to landmark school discrimination cases, including the 1885 California Supreme Court Case, Tape v. Hurley, in which the parents of eight year-old American-born Mamie Tape successfully challenged the principal’s refusal to enroll Mamie and other Chinese children at Spring Valley School. The Tape case determined that all children, including immigrants, were entitled to public education.

However, in the same year the Tape case was decided, the California State Assembly enacted Bill 268 that authorized school districts to assign children of “Mongolian” descent to segregated schools. This gave rise to the “Oriental School” in San Francisco.

When the school board adopted the resolution in October 1906 authorizing the removal of Japanese students from normal schools for placement in the “Oriental School,” it violated the 1894 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, which established a non-discrimination policy for Japanese immigrants in the U.S.  In response, the Japanese government lodged a formal complaint with the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. This then created a diplomatic crisis at a time when Roosevelt sought to maintain the fragile peace treaty he brokered to end the war between Russia and Japan.

In an unprecedented move, President Roosevelt summoned the San Francisco Board of Education and Mayor to the White House in January, 1907 to negotiate a compromise. The school board agreed to return Japanese students to normal schools and the Japanese government agreed to voluntary limits on immigration, known as the “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

“The board’s action to now rescind the 1906 resolution puts an unequivocal end to exclusionary policies directed at students of Asian ancestry,” said Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh. “We reject the nativism and racism that motivated these policies of a century ago and remain committed in our mission to educate every child, regardless of race or immigration status.”

Today Asian American students account for approximately 40 percent of the 56,000 preK through 12th grade students in the San Francisco Unified School District.


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Page updated on 01/25/17