Mothers challenge SFUSD: ‘They treat my daughter like a criminal because she’s Black’

Sabrina Hall will never stop fighting to ensure that her children receive the best possible education and opportunities. – Photo: Kristen Skalin

by Michelle Chan

Shonte and Sabrina, two Black mothers, allege that the San Francisco Unified School District, or SFUSD, has routinely discriminated against their children and knowingly violated policies and procedures. This is their story.

Guilty until proven innocent: Just another day at Ida B. Wells

It was Monette Latham’s first day of school at Ida B. Wells High School. That morning, a student reported that her cellphone was stolen. Monette was singled out by school staff as the perpetrator.

“They immediately pulled her out of class and held her against her will in an office in the back of the school,” said Shonte Foster, Monette’s mother. “They treated her like a criminal even though there wasn’t any evidence that she had committed a crime. No one had witnessed Monette steal the phone nor could anyone locate a phone on her.

“They searched over and over again. They looked through her belongings. They emptied her pockets and patted her down. They pulled up her pants legs and checked her socks. But still, no phone could be found. After all that, the school principal just wouldn’t leave her alone.”

Shonte reports that school staff held Monette that day for more than three hours without offering her water or food and treating Monette with extreme indignity.

“They insisted that she needed to stay for her own safety, because the person who lost her phone had made threats of violence,” said Shonte. “But mind you they called the police – not because someone had supposedly threatened to beat my daughter up – but because school staff insisted that Monette be charged as an adult for theft.”

The police did not charge Monette with theft but did subject her to yet another demeaning search. Again, no phone was found.

Shonte insists that this incident is part of an ongoing saga of discrimination and profiling by Ida B. Wells staff and alleges that her daughter was targeted and had been searched over a dozen times the previous year.

“They are treating my daughter like a criminal because she’s Black and they’re racist,” said Shonte. “They are treating her like a criminal and always trying to catch her doing something, so every time she comes to school, they accuse her of doing something and they search her.

“It got to the point where she won’t go to school no more because she didn’t want to be treated like that. That’s how they do all the kids from our neighborhood.”

Bayview mother fights for the dignity of her children

Sabrina Hall is an active member of the community and a fierce advocate for her children. In 2017, she was forced to return to San Francisco after the father of her children relocated them from Las Vegas without her permission. Although Sabrina was able to regain custody of them, the family struggled for months with homelessness.

“We were never offered services by the city. They made us wait eight months before giving us any cash aid or food stamp benefits even though we were living in shelters, so I was hoping that the SFUSD would step in to help my family,” said Sabrina. “But almost as soon as I enrolled my children in the San Francisco school system, they started having problems.”

Sabrina alleges that the SFUSD has routinely discriminated against her children because they are African-American and she believes that their routine failure to provide proper accommodations and support for them is a direct result of this discrimination.

“At Everett Middle School, a staff member called us niggers. After I complained about that, the staff member was removed from her position there. But then my daughter was also being discriminated against there because she talks loud, but she’s hard of hearing in her left ear and I told them that,” said Sabrina.

“So my daughter was always getting in trouble for these issues that she had no control over, and then my daughter’s teacher had everyone in the class write down what they don’t like about my daughter. My daughter was devastated.”

Sabrina reports that a representative from the SFUSD legal department reached out to her family and asked her daughter what she wanted. Sabrina’s daughter said that she would like to stand before the class and tell them how the incident made her feel. Although the representative from SFUSD had promised to make this happen, it never did.

Sabrina also alleges that her other two children attending school in the SFUSD have also been discriminated against.

“My teenage daughter who was a straight-A student in junior high school and student body president, was suspended 23 times at John O’Connell High School. Each time they didn’t try any restorative practices or ever refer her to any counseling nor did they ever give her any homework or make any efforts to help her stay connected with her coursework. They just didn’t try at all.

“It was all about punishing her and trying to get rid of her rather than trying to help her. And finally they just expelled her,” said Sabrina. “And my youngest child is in a Spanish immersion class that doesn’t welcome Black students. There is racism in the SFUSD and the school board is doing nothing to ensure that Black children from low-income communities are getting the same opportunities that wealthy white students are getting.”

School-to-Prison Pipeline

Shonte Foster and Sabrina Hall are both very involved mothers who want nothing but the best for their children. It so happens that Shonte and Sabrina live in two of the poorest areas in San Francisco. But they both insist not only that their children deserve access to a better education and school environment, but that San Francisco has the means and ability to deliver this to their children.

“The bottom line is that they just don’t want to,” said Sabrina. “They just don’t care.”

African-American students are disproportionately targeted for office visits, suspensions and expulsions in the SFUSD. These punitive practices take vulnerable students out of the classroom and often isolates them, which only exacerbates the problem and increases the probability that these students will end up in the juvenile justice system.

In 2014 the San Francisco Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt the Safe and Supportive Schools policy with the intention of improving school climate by replacing punitive punishment policies with policies that support Restorative Practices, Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, and Trauma Sensitive practices.

Shonte Foster and Sabrina Hall both report that none of these approaches have been utilized and insist that their children continue to be targeted and policed in their schools.

“My daughters have been through a lot in their lives, for the pure fact that we live in Sunnydale,” said Shonte. “There’s no supermarket here in Sunnydale. To go to get groceries takes all day. And the police, they come into our neighborhood just looking for reasons to pick up the neighborhood kids. Everyone is always looking at them like they’re nothing but trouble. How do you think that feels?”

Michelle Chan is interested in hearing from people who have parenting and custody issues in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached at MichelleChan2019@gmail.com. Michelle is an activist, writer and mother. Michelle and Shonte Foster co-founded Parents Against CPS Corruption. To find more about their cause, visit ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption.com.