Judge Blocks San Francisco School District's Plan to Cover George Washington Mural That 'Traumatizes Students'

A Superior Court judge has overturned the San Francisco Unified School District’s plan to cover a series of murals depicting the life of George Washington.

The school district claimed that the art “traumatizes students.”

The SFUSD’s Board of Directors was sued in 2019 by the alumni association of George Washington High School after they announced their plans to cover the 1936 mural by Victor Arnautoff.

Critics of the mural, titled “Life of Washington,” claimed that the painting “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression” and “traumatizes students.”

Arnautoff’s intention with the piece, according to a report from CBS San Francisco, was to demonstrate the cruelty of Washington and American policies. The historic art portrays slaves and a dead Native American, which is what the school says prompted complaints.

The Blaze reports that in July 2019, “over 500 academics signed an open letter imploring the board to think twice about its decision, calling it a ‘gross violation of logic’ as the cycle of 13 murals actually represents ‘a significant monument of anti-racism.'”

On Monday, Judge Anne-Christine Massullo sided with the alumni association, who had argued that the school district failed to conduct an environmental review for removing the mural, despite it being required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The school board voted on removing the mural twice: first supporting painting over it in June of 2019 — then voting not to remove it in August. Instead, they planned to cover the mural with panels.

“I think we all agree that the murals depict a history of the country that is hard to see and everyone agrees that that history is racist. I think where we disagree is if it’s appropriate for a school site,” said school board president Stevon Cook during the vote to cover up the mural back in August of 2019, according to CBS.

Judge Massullo agreed that the SFUSD had failed to comply with the law while making their plans.

“The Board and SFUSD failed in their primary duty to follow the requirements of the law,” Massullo wrote in her decision. “California, as a matter of long-standing public policy, places enormous value on its environmental and historical resources and the People are entitled to expect public officials to give more than lip-service to the laws designed to protect those resources.”

The judge ruled that the board and the alumni association must prepare to conduct an environmental review on the mural before the next hearing on August 26.

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