Forty-four San Francisco schools could be slated for name makeovers if a committee within the San Francisco Unified School District can convince the school board of the need.
The committee came to be more than a year and half after the school board voted in May 2018 to mandate a panel to study the names of the district’s 125 schools and recommend changes.
The 44 schools that were notified last week they may be renamed for purported “connections to slavery, genocide or oppression,” according to the Chronicle, are expected to choose alternate monikers by Dec. 18.
The schools include Abraham Lincoln High School, George Washington High School, Paul Revere (PreK-8) School, Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, Francis Scott Key Elementary School, Juniper Serra Elementary School, Alamo Elementary School, Presidio Middle School and Roosevelt Middle School.
The advisory committee members have been meeting on an ad-hoc basis since January, according to the group’s meeting minutes. Their recommendations to remove names like that of 16th U.S. President Lincoln, first U.S. President Washington, Revolutionary War patriot Revere, Democratic senator and former San Francisco Mayor Feinstein, “Star-Spangled Banner” songwriter Key, Serra (a missionary priest from Spain), “Alamo” (likely a reference to the Texas Revolution battleground), San Francisco’s former military post Presidio, and Roosevelt (a reference to either former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt or former President Teddy Roosevelt) were based on research conducted by the committee’s members, the Chronicle reported.
According to the 2018 resolution that kickstarted the renaming process, the SFUSD had previously relabeled Sir Francis Drake Elementary School as Malcolm X Academy in 1994, because the English explorer was allegedly a “slave trader.”
The 2018 resolution additionally indicated that Dianne Feinstein Elementary School was formerly called “Parkside Elementary School.” The Chronicle said the school was renamed after Feinstein in 2006, but may be renamed again because Feinstein reportedly replaced a damaged Confederate flag at city hall while serving as San Francisco’s mayor in the 1980s.
As part of the renaming committee’s “Guiding Principles,” established during its July 17 meeting, the commission intends to search for names “grounded in social & economic justice” that “bring joy and healing to the world,” reflect the district’s “core values,” honor the “heritage of unceded ancestral homelands, Indigenous nations and Indigenous communities,” and “reflect the diversity” of the city’s residents.
Parent Jonathan Alloy, whose children are students at Commodore Sloat Elementary School — also on the list for its connection to Navy officer John D. Sloat — told the Chronicle that changing school names does nothing to help children who are struggling with distance learning-related demands during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Principals are devoting resources to this,” Alloy said. “We’re being presented with it as a fait accompli.”
“We’re not actually helping disadvantaged children by changing the name of the school they can’t attend,” he added.
Sloat Elementary Principal Fowzigiah Abdolcader advised parents on Oct. 14 the school was seeking to change its name because the names committee viewed Sloat as a “colonizer who ‘claimed/stole’ California from Mexico,” the Chronicle reported.
“I understand that this may bring up mixed emotions within our community, because we love our school,” Abdolcader said.
The fact that the school district is focused on changing school names right now is “offensive,” according to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat.
The school district must “focus on reopening our public schools, not renaming them,” she tweeted Oct. 16.
“And now, in the midst of this once in a century challenge, to hear that the District is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools — schools that haven’t even opened — is offensive,” Breed said in a statement, citing $15 million the city earmarked to support the schools during the pandemic.
“It’s offensive to parents who are juggling their children’s daily at-home learning schedules, with doing their own jobs and maintaining their sanity,” she said.
“It’s offensive to me as someone who went to our public schools, who loves our public schools, and who knows how those years in the classroom are what lifted me out of poverty and into college. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends.”
Today I issued a statement on the need for our School District to focus on reopening our public schools, not renaming them. To address inequities, we need to get our kids back in the classroom. pic.twitter.com/nHnauVZzFe
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) October 16, 2020
San Francisco Board of Education president Mark Sanchez defended the committee’s work in a statement of his own, also on Oct. 16.
“My colleagues and I are in full agreement that the biggest priority is ensuring the continued education of our students and the wellbeing of everyone in our community, including students, staff and their families,” Sanchez said.
“We also believe the timing for taking an anti-racist stance is as much now as ever, even in the midst of the pandemic. But I want to assure you that reopening schools is in no way being held up by the community process the school renaming panel is engaged in.”
Sanchez told the Chronicle that he didn’t think all 44 schools’ names would be changed.
The panel will likely meet in January or February to consider the alternative names and submit its final recommendations to the school board, which will vote on them.
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