San Francisco will rename 44 schools, including campuses named after former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The almost unanimous vote of the Education Committee of San Francisco on Monday with only one dissident comes after years of debate – and much contempt, also from Mayor London Breed – over the settlement of historical figures and their controversial, flawed legacies.
“It’s a message to our families, our students, and our community,” board member Mark Sanchez said at the meeting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not just symbolic.”
The new namesakes for the schools must adhere to new guidelines, including the fact that individuals honored by renaming are not slaveholders, or implicated in slavery or genocide, are bound to human rights abuses, or are “known racists and / or whites Supremacists “are. “”
Washington and Jefferson, for example, were slave owners while former San Francisco mayor Feinstein was listed after City Hall allegedly reintroduced Confederate flags in the 1980s. Lincoln, widely venerated for issuing the Declaration of Emancipation, was chosen for “his treatment of the peoples of the First Nation,” first grade teacher Jeremiah Jeffries told the Chronicle in a popular December quote.
The legacy of some other namesakes, such as Junipero Serra, Jose Ortega, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa, was based on the colonization and abuse of indigenous peoples. Another famous figure, John Muir, was also selected to be renamed as comments engendered racial stereotypes against blacks. (The Sierra Club’s executive director recently condemned its founder for making these remarks.)
The schools have until April to determine the new names for their campus via KNTV-TV, which will then be voted on by the board members.
The issue of renaming the San Francisco schools has attracted national attention, and former President Donald Trump has used his tweeting powers against the decision. Some criticized historians’ lack of involvement in the renaming decision.
Even Mayor London Breed joined the fight, criticizing the renaming of schools and calling them “offensive” last year amid the pandemic and continued school closings.
Breed said in a statement on Wednesday, “This is an important conversation we should involve our communities, our families and our students in. What I fail to understand is why the school board is pushing a plan for all of these schools, which was renamed April if there is no plan to have our children back in the classroom by then. “
“Let’s bring the same urgency and focus on getting our children back into the classroom and then we can talk longer about the future of school names,” the statement said.
A parent of one of Adolph Sutro Elementary’s students, who spoke at the meeting, shared the Chronicle and supported the decision. Sutro, a former mayor, discriminated against black people who wanted to visit the baths named after him.
However, others, like Spring Utting, a parent of a student at Lowell High – another school to be renamed – were concerned that the renaming would undermine the broader, more important problem of schools reopening.
“Is that supposed to distract the parents so we don’t ask what the school reopening plan is? Do they have one?” she told SFGATE. “Why isn’t that the first item on your agenda?”
“It is deeply disappointing,” said Seeyew Mo, the executive director of Families for San Francisco, a school reopening advocacy group, “that the school board was paying no heed to community submissions, even when factual corrections were ignored.” The group released a report earlier this month calling the work of the renaming committee “deeply flawed”.
The saga ends just a week after a Lowell scandal that featured racial slurs and pornography on a school-wide virtual forum.
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, UC Berkeley continues its efforts to rename or “rename” buildings on campus. It removed the signage from the former Kroeber Hall, named after Alfred Kroeber, an anthropologist whose work, according to indigenous activists, contributed to the extermination of Native Americans.
Eric Ting contributed to this report.