The San Francisco School Board voted to suspend a plan to rename a third of the city’s public schools, including those honoring Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, after the plan met with a scathing reaction from parents and the mayor of the city.
In a vote on Tuesday, the board overturned its January decision to rename 44 schools, saying it wanted to avoid “frivolous litigation” issues. The schools had been identified by a panel of community leaders as needing name changes because they honored historical figures who inhibited the progress of society, oppressed women, or had slaves.
The education council said in a resolution Tuesday that it was “deeply grateful for the work of the panel” but wished “to avoid distraction and waste of public funds in frivolous litigation.” He also said he would reconsider the issue of renaming schools “only after all students have resumed in-person learning for five full days a week.”
On the list were schools named after George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key, figures the board reconsidered because they “engaged in the subjugation and slavery of human beings.” Another school was named after Abraham Lincoln, who was being examined for his part in the 1862 execution of 38 Dakota men.
Modern rulers were also included in the list of schools. Elementary Feinstein, named after Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, was on the list because a Confederate flag flown outside City Hall was replaced in 1984, when she was mayor of San Francisco.
Tuesday’s decision indefinitely suspends debate, which comes as cities, school districts and other institutions in the United States and around the world re-examine and, in some cases, remove historic symbols, names and monuments. But in this case, officials said the math had gone too far, with parents calling the decision to rename 44 schools embarrassing and “a caricature of what people think the Liberals are doing in San Francisco.”
The plan has also been criticized for its reliance on botched research, such as a claim that falsely accused Paul Revere of seeking to colonize the Penobscot people. The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board wrote in January that members of the education committee had “largely left the education industry and rebranded themselves as amateur historians.”
Parents were worried about the cost of the changes and angry that the decision was made without their input. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the council’s emphasis on renaming schools while they remained closed was “offensive”.
In-person learning, long on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, will begin to resume in the coming weeks, as students return to schools in San Francisco.
Even before Tuesday’s decision, the board had already started to reverse its name change plan. Gabriela López, President of the Board of Directors, said in a press release in February, that the debate over renaming the 44 schools had been ‘distracting’ and that the council’s goal, for now, would be to ensure schools reopen safely as cases of the coronavirus disappear.
“We will not take precious time from our council agenda to discuss it further, as we need to prioritize reopening,” she said.
Thomas fuller contribution to reports.