San Francisco's "Chinese School"


"The Chinese School" was created. Chinese children were not permitted into any other public schools in San Francisco.



San Francisco segregated its Chinese school children from 1859 until 1871, when the city refused to fund any more classes for them. Chinese parents hired private teachers or sent their children to church-sponsored schools. 


In 1884, Joseph and Mary Tape decided to challenge this practice by enrolling their daughter, Mamie, in Spring Valley School. When the school refused to admit Mamie, the Tapes sued the school district and won. The district appealed the lower court's decision to the California Supreme Court, where the justices sustained the verdict of the lower court. The case guaranteed the right of children born to Chinese parents in California to a public education. 



To avoid integration, the San Francisco District set up a separate Chinese Primary School in 1885. 



In October 1906, amidst agitation for a Japanese exclusion law like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law, San Francisco's Board of Education renamed the Chinese School the "Oriental Public School" and ordered the city's 93 Japanese school children to attend it along with the Chinese children. The Japanese government protested that this was a violation of U.S.-Japanese treaties, and there was agitation in Japan for a declaration of war against the U.S.  Roosevelt invited Mayor Eugene Schmitz to Washington, D.C. to resolve the matter.  The resulting "Gentlemen's Agreement" overturned the board of education's decision, revoked the segregation of Japanese school children, and excluded Japanese laborers from entering the United States.


The "Oriental School" was renamed Commodore Stockton School. Alice Fong Yu was the first Chinese teacher. Students were barred from speaking Chinese in school or on the playground.



In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (May 1954), a case that the New York Times has called "the most important legal decision of the 20th century, perhaps of all time," the U.S. Supreme Court announced: "We conclude, unanimously, that in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate-but-equal' has no place." 


The Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine for public education, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and required the desegregation of schools across America. The Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision did not abolish segregation in other public areas, such as restaurants and restrooms, nor did it require desegregation of public schools by a specific time. It did, however, declare the permissive or mandatory segregation that existed in 21 states unconstitutional. It was a giant step towards complete desegregation of public schools. Even partial desegregation of these schools, however, was still very far away. 



A federal district court ordered desegregation of California schools.



Chinese activists filed a law suit against the school board. Lau vs. Nichols - contending that 2500 immigrant Chinese children did not receive a meaningful education. In 1974 the case was won and SFUSD had to establish a Chinese bilingual program for immigrant children. Chinese community in San Francisco defined languages as an urgent area for educational action. The school board had persistently refused to acknowledge the importance of language learning until recently with the establishment of the SFUSD Language Academy.


Commodore Stockton Elementary School was renamed Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in honor of the late civic leader and advocate for the Chinese community



Sources: Walton Bean, Boss Ruef's San Francisco, p. 182; ;; .