Public schools

School Principal Withheld Student Council Election Results Because Winners Weren't Diverse Enough

Sending the wrong message



In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. But Everett Middle School in San Francisco is not exactly a democracy, and Principal Lena Van Haren withheld publication of the results of a student council election because she didn't like the outcome—too many of the winners were white.

The school is roughly 80 percent students of color, but the election results didn't reflect the school's diversity, according to KTVU:

"That is concerning to me because as principal I want to make sure all voices are heard from all backgrounds," Van Haren said….

"We're not nullifying the election, we're not cancelling the election and we're not saying this didn't count," Van Haren said.

She said the school may possibly add positions in an effort to be more equal.

"I'm very hopeful this can be a learning experience and actually be something that embodied our vision which is to help students make positive change," she added.

But an election is already a learning experience—or would be, if administrators didn't hide the results. Teaching kids that authority figures always know better—and will even re-jigger the outcome of a democratic election if they don't like the people the students picked—not only sends the wrong message, it's blatantly unfair.

It's also possibly illegal, according to The Washington Post's Eugene Volokh:

I'm inclined to say, by the way, that attempting to "add positions in an effort to be more equal" by (presumably) filling them with children of a particular race would likely violate the Equal Protection Clause and federal civil rights law. And even if one can somehow argue that such an action is "narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest" in supposed "diversity," it violates the California Constitution's categorical ban on "discriminat[ing] against, or grant[ing] preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race … in the operation of … public education."

Roundly (and rightly) criticized for presuming to correct the student's election choices, Van Haren backed off, releasing the following statement:

Everett Middle School is honoring the results of the Associated Student Body (ASB) elections. This is our first student council at Everett Middle School in recent history and we started up a student council because we want our students to have several ways to develop their leadership skills and be a part of shaping our school. We want a student leadership body that includes the range of perspectives and experiences of our students and we believe a representative body is an important part of democracy.

When we reviewed the results of our Associated Student Body (ASB) elections on Friday, October 9th, we saw that it was not fully representative of our school population. I made the decision to pause on sharing the results with the students in order to capitalize on a teachable moment. I wanted to have a conversation with all of the candidates and ask for their ideas to make sure that all voices and groups are represented in our ASB. In retrospect, I understand how this decision to pause created concerns. Today I visited classrooms to announce the winners of the elections.

I happen to think student governments are often silly organizations that reward students with very little actual power while teaching them to adore political life. But if a school is going to have an election at all, it really ought to honor the wishes of the voters.