Watch CBS News

Judge Overturns SF School Board Decision To Cover Up Controversial Mural

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A Superior Court judge ruled Monday to overturn the San Francisco Unified School District's decision to remove a controversial mural from a local high school.

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo sided with the alumni association of George Washington High School, who sued the SFUSD's Board of Directors back in 2019 over its decision to cover up the 1936 mural by Victor Arnautoff, titled "Life of Washington."

The massive mural drew controversy for its depictions of native Americans and slaves, and students at the school petitioned the board to remove it.

The George Washington High School Alumni Association sued the board over its failure to conduct an environmental review for removing the mural, despite it being required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The school board even voted on the mural removal twice: first to remove it in June of 2019; then in August, the board voted not to remove it, but to cover the decades-old mural with panels.

READ MORE: San Francisco School District Votes To Cover Up Mural Without Painting Over It

Judge Massullo agreed with the alumni association's argument.

"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 board's decision to cover up the mural came after a group of Black and indigenous students petitioned the board to remove it. Though Arnautoff's intention with the piece was to demonstrate the cruelty of Washington and American policies, the portrayals of slaves and a dead Native American were too much for the students.

George Washington High School Murals
S.F. Washington High School invited the community to view the controversial murals depicting the life of the first president which are set to be painted over. (CBS)

"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.

But the decision received significant pushback, not just from the school's alumni association but from local Black leaders such as the Reverend Amos Brown, President of San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, and actor Danny Glover.

"It takes two wings for a bird to fly, two wings for an airplane to stay up in the air. That mural must not come down," said Brown at the time of the board's vote.

Judge Massullo ruled that the board and the alumni association must meet and prepare to conduct an environmental review on the mural before the next court hearing on Aug. 26 of this year.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.