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

San Francisco School Board Votes Unanimously to Halt Controversial School Renaming Plan

‘Blue ribbon panel’ in charge of school renaming bypassed experts in favor of Wikipedia to research each schools namesakes

By Evan Symon, April 7, 2021 3:19 pm

The San Francisco Board of Education suspended their controversial decision to rename 44 schools on Tuesday following months of criticism and growing concerns over the research used by the panel in charge of finding schools to rename.

Following the School Board’s January decision to rename 44 schools 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, more and more pressure has been mounting against the board to stop the plan. Lawmakers in and around San Francisco quickly denounced the plan, including Mayor London Breed, who wanted the board to rather focus on reopening schools. The board quickly backtracked, temporarily halting the decision.

“I also acknowledge and take responsibility for mistakes made in the building renaming process,” tweeted Board President Gabriela Lopez in February. “We need to slow down and provide more opportunities for community input – that cannot happen until AFTER our schools are back in person. We will not be taking valuable time from our board agendas to further discuss this, as we need to prioritize reopening.”

Public pressure didn’t let up, and with the added stress of lawsuits being filed to stop the renamings and one board member being found to have sent racist tweets a few years prior, the board finally reversed their decision on Tuesday in a unanimous 6-0 vote.

“The Board is deeply grateful for the work of the Panel, but wishes to avoid the distraction and wasteful expenditure of public funds in frivolous litigation,” said the board in it’s Tuesday resolution. However, they also added that, while suspended for now, the board will revisit the renaming issue after all students have returned to in-person learning for 5 full days each week.

The “blue ribbon panel” in charge of finding schools that can be renamed had been put under intense scrutiny in recent days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, especially after it was revealed that the panel had forgone consulting experts in favor of using Wikipedia to research each schools namesakes.

Among the numerous mistakes made by the panel that have been revealed recently is the panel thinking that Alamo Elementary School was named after a Texas battle rather than being the Spanish word for poplar tree, not knowing that Paul Revere fought in a Penobscot War against the British rather that trying to colonize Penobscot Native Americans like the board claimed, and failing to recognize that Abraham Lincoln had pardoned hundreds of Native Americans and only allowed a few to be hanged due to murder charges in an incident the board used to show that Lincoln was racist.

Those against the renamings celebrated the decision on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It feels like truth won this time,” noted Families for San Francisco leader Seeyew Mo on Tuesday. “I’m glad they’ve come to their senses — after lawsuits, and public pressure. A lot of people agree with the idea of revisiting names, but they just disagree with how it was done.”

However, some noted that it isn’t over either.

“You rarely see this sort of thing happen with any government group in San Francisco,” said San Francisco-based policy advisor Sharon Burke in an interview with the Globe. “They almost never back down, especially on progressive issues. But remember that this isn’t a complete stop. They didn’t crumble and toss this away. They only put it in their desk for awhile. When kids get back to class in August or later this year, they can bring this back.”

“You can bet when they do that it will get a lot of attention again. But who knows what things will look like then. San Franciscans won the battle today, a big battle, but the war against this isn’t over yet.”

The school renaming issue is expected to be revisited later this year following the return of schoolchildren to classrooms in the city full-time.

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One thought on “San Francisco School Board Votes Unanimously to Halt Controversial School Renaming Plan

  1. People might be tired of this SF story, but it DOES show that parents supported by REASONABLE politicians and threats of legal action can work: “Public pressure didn’t let up, and with the added stress of lawsuits being filed to stop the renamings and one board member being found to have sent racist tweets a few years prior, the board finally reversed their decision on Tuesday in a unanimous 6-0 vote.”

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