Oriental Public School
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|Gordon J. Lau Elementary School|
Washington Street entrance
950 Clay Street
|Former name||The Chinese School|
Oriental Public School
Commodore Stockton Elementary School
|Medium of language||English, Chinese[which?]|
|Feeder schools||Chinese Primary School|
|Feeder to||Marina Middle School|
Oriental Public School, founded as The Chinese School, was a public school located in Chinatown, San Francisco, California. It was initially set up in 1859 as a segregated school for schoolchildren of Chinese (and later Japanese and Korean) descent, part of the growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States that arose in the late 1800s. The school has been renamed a number of times, most recently in 1998 to the Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in honor of the city's first Chinese-American supervisor.
A small private school was briefly mentioned as having started in late 1852 in a letter to the editors of the Daily Alta California, warmly concluding "if the Chinese can be induced to settle permanently among us, that in time our country will be greatly benefitted by their accession." A fundraising campaign was started six months later for a Chinese Mission to educate Chinese students in machinery and western religion.
In September 1859 The Chinese School was opened as a segregated public school for Chinese students in San Francisco's Chinatown. "Negroes, Mongolians, and Indians" were legally barred from attending public schools by a state law passed in 1860 which allowed the establishment of segregated schools instead. Attendance was sporadic and low for several years afterwards as many children did not attend school.
One reason for low attendance rate may have been the lack of control the Chinese Americans had over school administration. Claiming a lack of funds, San Francisco Board of Education closed the school after only four months of operation, only to reopen it after the white community protested about integrating their schools.
San Francisco segregated its Chinese school children from 1859 until 1871, when the city refused to fund any more classes for them. The California Political Code had been amended in 1866 to restrict enrollment in public schools to "all white children, between five and twenty-one years of age" (§53), and required that "children of African or Mongolian descent, and Indian children not living under the care of white persons" be educated in segregated schools (§57) which were to be separate but equal (§59). In 1870, the law was again rewritten to drop the requirement to provide any education for Chinese children, limiting the segregated separate but equal schools to "children of African descent, and Indian children." San Francisco Superintendent Denman cut funding from the Chinese School, which closed on March 1, 1871.:127–131 After it closed, Chinese parents often sent their children to church schools or hired private teachers.
Tape v. Hurley
—The Report of the Special Committee of the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, on the Condition of the Chinese Quarter of that City (1885):60–62
In 1880, the Political Code was modified to lift the restriction of enrollment to white students (§1662) and the sections requiring separate but equal (§1671) segregated schools (§1669) were repealed. With the change to the Code, in 1884, Joseph and Mary Tape challenged San Francisco's practice by enrolling their daughter, Mamie, in the all-white Spring Valley School. After the school refused to admit Mamie, the Tapes sued the school district in Tape v. Hurley and won. SFUSD 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 to public education.
In the wake of Tape v. Hurley, Andrew Moulder, the Superintendent of Public Schools in San Francisco, sent a telegram to Representative W.B. May of the California State Assembly on March 4, 1885 urging passage of bills to reestablish segregated schools. "Without such action I have every reason to believe that some of our classes will be inundated by Mongolians. Trouble will follow." May responded by pushing through Assembly Bill 268, which once again allowed the establishment of "separate schools for children of Mongolian or Chinese descent. When such separate schools are established, Chinese or Mongolian children must not be admitted into any other schools."
As a result, the San Francisco District decided to set up a separate Chinese Primary School the next year. Chinese Primary School had three classes with an enrollment of 90 students in 1895. The first location was at the corner of Jackson and Stone, but the school was later moved to 916 Clay.:166 The Primary School was mentioned in an 1896 San Francisco Call article profiling the kindergarten at the First Chinese Baptist Church.
Oriental Public School
On October 11, 1906, amidst agitation for a Japanese exclusion law like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, San Francisco 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 students of Chinese and Korean ancestry. The Japanese government protested that this violated a treaty signed in 1894, which guaranteed the right of Japanese immigration to the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt invited Mayor Eugene Schmitz to Washington, D.C. to resolve the matter. The resulting Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907 overturned the board of education's decision, overturned the segregation of Japanese-American school children, and excluded Japanese laborers from entering the United States.
The building at the present site, designed by Albert Pissis, was completed in 1915 with an entrance on Washington, between Stockton and Powell. Local residents objected to the site, as it outside the traditional boundary of Chinatown, west of Stockton.:168
The Oriental School was renamed Commodore Stockton School on April 1, 1924.:169 Across Washington, the Commodore Stockton School Annex opened in 1924, designed by Angus McSweeney. The first Chinese teacher, named in 1927, was Alice Fong Yu, who initially assisted the principal with translation duties to interact with parents and students.:169 Students were not permitted to speak Chinese in school or on the playground.
The San Francisco Unified School District finally repealed the regulation requiring students of Chinese and Korean heritage to attend the Oriental School in a largely symbolic gesture in 2017, more than a hundred years after the 1906 controversy.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gordon Lau Elementary.|
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How do you honor a man like Gordon [Lau], who died in April? You take a once-segregated grammar school in the heart of Chinatown and give it Lau's name, by unanimous Board of Ed vote. And so the former Commodore Stockton Elementary School becomes Gordon J. Lau Elementary, inheriting a new name and a new spirit.
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