Concerns with racial bias in SF Chronicle column by Heather Knight

The following letter is written by Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews to the San Francisco Chronicle in response to a column written by Heather Knight and published on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

I am very concerned with the misrepresentations, racial innuendo and omissions in Heather Knight’s column today about Aptos Middle School.

Like all of our schools, Aptos is made up of a diverse group of students from various backgrounds and cultures. At SFUSD, we serve all students no matter where they come from and we work with each and every one of them to help them grow and learn.

As we understand it, there are some people concerned for their children’s safety who approached Ms. Knight. We want every child to be safe at school and are working to address concerns. Unfortunately, there is a persistent narrative that some kids shouldn’t be in our schools (or at least not “my child’s school”). In fact one parent told Aptos staff directly “certain kids don’t belong in the school.”

In a version of the column that was published online, Ms. Knight said that students were eating chicken in a hallway and characterized the scene with the words “all hell broke loose.” Given the racial undertones of some comments and descriptions like this from Ms. Knight, I am concerned about the racial dynamics at play which are both unacknowledged and perpetuated by Ms. Knight. [The line about students eating chicken has since been removed online.]

It’s also troubling that Ms. Knight excluded much of the information that our district and Aptos leaders took the time to share with her. Below are just a few examples.

When I spoke with Ms. Knight, I acknowledged that middle school can be a challenging time for families and students. Acknowledging this fact is not the same as turning a blind eye to behaviors that are disruptive and that cause others harm. Yet, after a three minute conversation, which Ms. Knight abruptly ended, my comments were mischaracterized as not sounding “overly concerned about it.”

I want to be very clear that I take every safety issue and behavior incident extremely seriously. As a parent myself, I know that safety is paramount. I would want my child’s school to communicate with me and take every action to ensure my child’s wellbeing. I know Aptos has been working diligently to address behavior concerns and continues to work with families.

Ms. Knight inaccurately stated that the district has made only one change since hearing concerns for families. She says the “only real concession the district has made after complaints about safety…” was to hire a temporary security guard for the hallways. In fact, the district told Ms. Knight of the many ways that school leaders have made changes and implemented systems of support.

We shared with her that there are a variety of wellness supports and services, including a school nurse, social worker, four counselors, and teams of staff who work with students who need more support. In addition, staff receive training in how to reinforce a positive school climate.

It’s true that SFUSD has limited resources; however, Ms. Knight misled readers when she said “the school district cut $190,000 in federal money.” In fact, Aptos no longer qualified for that federal funding per federal guidelines. Overall Aptos’ budget actually increased this 2019-20 school year compared to 2018-19 because the district compensated for the loss in federal funding. This was explained to Ms. Knight and she failed to include this significant detail in her column.

I recognize that some staff and families are still facing challenges at Aptos. We look forward to continuing to partner with families to address any concerns. We hope San Franciscans will join us in celebrating the diversity in our schools and work with us to ensure each and every child feels safe and welcome.


Dr. Vincent Matthews

Superintendent of Schools