On Thursday, outrage over the San Francisco School Board’s Tuesday decision to rename 44 schools in the district over ‘racist’ namesakes grew to new levels.
Tuesday’s decision, which would rename schools honoring everyone from former presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was made due to calls from a small minority of people in city to change names based on namesakes who were ‘slave owners, had a part in slavery and genocide, were part of human rights violations, or were known racists or white supremacists.’
According to school board member Mark Sanchez, “This is a moral message. It’s a message to our families, our students and our community. It’s not just symbolic.”
However, the move move sparked outrage not only in San Francisco and California, but across the United States and internationally as well. Many outlets in Europe even reported on and criticized the move.
In San Francisco, Democrats and Republicans alike criticized the move during the week, including Mayor London Breed, who noted that while some may have merit to be changed, that COVID-19 reopenings and student and faculty safety should be taking priority now.
“This is an important conversation to have, and one that we should involve our communities, our families, and our students,” said Mayor Breed on Tuesday. “What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then.
“Let’s bring the same urgency and focus on getting our kids back in the classroom, and then we can have that longer conversation about the future of school names.”
Public, alumni pressure may change school board’s decision
A petition was launched shortly after the decision on Tuesday and has since exploded in popularity. As of Thursday, it is closing in on 10,000signatories, with hundreds still signing by the hour. Similar petitions asking for recalls of school board members are planned to start up this weekend by activists against the school boards plan.
“We’ll be going after every school board member who voted for this,” explained Ron, a San Francisco resident who only wants his first name known right now, in an e-mail to the Globe. “This one is taking a bit more time because this is just like the Governor Newsom recall petition right now. It will be official. And based on all the parents who have been up in arms about this and other things the school board has done to these kids, it sounds like we’ll have a lot.”
Alumni associations of many of the affected schools have particularly noticed a strong backlash, with many already saying that the public backlash could be enough to halt the decision.
“Public pressure could influence their process,” explained George Washington high school alumni association Vice President Lope Yap Jr in a New York Post interview. “If they get enough backlash they might reconsider. We feel that whether socialist, conservative or independent, if you honor truth in history, politics needs to be put to the side. We don’t want to erase things.”
Ron also noted that money could be a strong influence in reconsideration.
“Alumni donors,” added Ron. “Me and several others have talked with schools in Ohio, New York, Florida, and elsewhere that had name changes threatened against them like this, and they said that alumni and boosters refusing to donate or give money if the name changed had a huge impact. In 92.5% of the cases we found, the school or school board reconsidered because of the massive amount of money they would lose and the number of alumni they would isolate.
“And this is San Francisco. There are a lot of rich donors here, and many rich parents who give money to the school for athletics and things. They would be screwed if that dried up.”
However, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has doubled down on the decision, with board president Gabriela Lopez confirming the changes would still be happening despite the massive amount of backlash.
“This is an opportunity for our students to learn about the history of our school’s names, including the potential new ones,” explained Lopez in a statement on Wednesday. “This resolution came to the school board in the wake of the attacks in Charlottesville, and we are working alongside the rest of the country to dismantle symbols of racism and white supremacy culture.”
However, residents may still hold the upper hand in reversing the decision, as the school board has been under fire for quite some time over a number of other issues, such as COVID-19 reopenings and regulations.
“The board and the district, they’re becoming more and more disliked for putting issues and activism in front of actual education,” said parent Rhonda Powell. “This was just the tipping point with the renamings. Now the whole world knows how pissed we really are at them.
“Hopefully common sense wins out and they backtrack on this.”
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