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San Francisco School Board members. (Photo: screen capture SF Board of Education)

San Francisco School Board May Halt School Renaming Plan on Tuesday

The board vote comes after months of public backlash, controversy over the renaming plan

By Evan Symon, April 5, 2021 2:24 pm

The San San Francisco Unified School Board will vote Tuesday on whether or not to continue on with their plans to rename 44 schools following months of public backlash and several other scandals that have plagued the school board since the renaming plans were originally passed in January.

The school board voted to rename 44 schools in January within the district due to the namesakes being slave owners, having a part in slavery and genocide, being a part of human rights violations, or were known racists or white supremacists. Under their criteria, schools named after former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover would be renamed. Other figures such as Paul Revere, John Muir, and current U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would also be part of the renaming plan, the later of whom was included for replacing a weathered confederate flag once as Mayor in 1986.

Outrage over the renamings was swift, with the majority of San Francisco residents, as well as prominent lawmakers such as Mayor London Breed, vehemently opposing the move. Due to extreme public pressure, and criticism building over their decision to rename schools before reopening them, the Board temporarily halted the decision in February. However, that did little to quell the public outrage, and soon the District was sued by several petitioners, including many school alumni.

In March, Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman even issued a mandate that said that the school board will either permanently stop the renaming resolution and break up the renaming committee by May 6th, or go to a hearing to explain why they didn’t.

Unrelated school board controversies in March, such as SF School Board Vice President Alison Collins being stripped of her title and leadership positions following revelations that she had made a series of racist, anti-Asian tweets in 2016, only added more fuel to the fire.

“It’s kind of ironic,” explained Ken, a parent of two students who attend one of the 44 targeted schools up for renaming to the Globe on Monday. “Collins and the school board voted to rename these schools because they said that some of them were racist. But then it turns out one of the largest supporters is a confirmed racist herself.”

Despite the renaming controversy, most parents want the board to focus on getting their kids back to class first

Due to the impending court mandate, public opposition, and now nation-wide scrutiny on the entire board, the board will vote on Tuesday on whether or not to pause the entire renaming action on a more long-term basis.

Many have noted that the process has frustrated San Franciscans, who weren’t even allowed to have any input on the decision.

“This approach of basically suggesting that they have the corner on morality and dictating to everyone else, from the top down,” said Paul Scott, the lead attorney of the lawsuit against the school district, on Monday. “What’s going to go on with your school, that is not an acceptable approach.”

However, many parents and parent groups have said that the renaming drama has to wait, as students, who have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, should get top priority right now.

“They’re trying to rename schools, saying someone renaming them is racist, trying  to put in all these big changes – we just don’t care about any of that right now,” said Sandra, a parent group leader for two schools in the city. “What we want are our children back in schools and trying to make it as close to as it was before the coronavirus made everyone learn from home. That’s it. That’s what we really want. But instead they throw in all of this unneeded drama. You really think renaming a school after Abraham Lincoln is important? Seriously? He seems alright. No one cared.”

“Our kids are struggling! They’re being hurt academically by you dragging your feet on bringing them back. They aren’t being hurt by a building name. They’re being hurt by you not allowing classes to come back. That’s the reason why we’re mad. You aren’t doing this to help our children, you’re deliberately ignoring the issue and not allowing them back in favor of this [BS]. And now we have them going back, but it’s on-again, off-again. Make up your minds!”

“And you wonder why we all hate San Francisco public schools.”

Others also said that the real issue right now is the return of kids into classrooms in the city.

“The renaming controversy and the Collins saga really brought the board into the national spotlight recently,” added San Francisco-based policy advisor Sharon Burke in a Globe interview. “But what the parents have been saying is 100% accurate. They want their kids back before anything else. They don’t like all of these other stories around the schools being in the news, especially with them being about the sensitive issue of race at a time in the city where Asian American attacks are climbing. They just want normalcy, then they deal with it.”

“I love this city, but this is San Francisco politics at it’s finest. You know, a lot of political in fighting and arguments are clouding everything up, people are yelling over if new laws are too liberal, but then there is the man or woman on the street who just wants their life to go on but gets caught in the crossfire instead.”

The meeting over the school renamings is expected to be even more politically charged than originally expected as it will be the first school board meeting since commissioner Collins was removed as Vice President last month. She currently has an open suit against the board for $87 million in damages.

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