On Sunday, San Francisco School Board President Gabriela Lopez announced that the controversial Board plan to rename 44 schools would be put on hold until classes fully resume.
In late January, the board voted 5-1 to rename public schools in the city who were named who were named after slave owners, had a part in slavery and genocide, were part of human rights violations, or were known racists or white supremacists. The list of names proved to be very controversial, as it included people such as Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, Revolutionary war hero Paul Revere, early Californian explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Sierra Club founder John Muir, and Senator Dianne Feinstein. Some reasons given for removal of certain figures included lone incidents in the persons past, while others did not have the enormous amount of good done by them weighed against a few past mistakes or beliefs.
“No one is ever 100% non-guilty of this sort of thing,” San Francisco school parent Greenlee Mathers told the Globe. “But you want to remove honoring great Americans like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, who are seen as two of our best presidents ever, over things they had believed or done that were not controversial at the time or had mistakenly done? That’s insane.”
Uproar in San Francisco, as well as across the United States and overseas, erupted almost immediately. Critics slammed the decision, while prominent Democrats like San Francisco Mayor London Breed joined with Republicans denouncing the decision, chastising the board for voting on a matter like that over more urgent matters such as reopening schools in the city. The city of San Francisco even sued the school board and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to reopen schools only a few days after the boards announcement.
A petition to stop the changes gained over 10,000 signatures in less than 48 hours. Another petition started last week to recall Lopez, board Vice President Alison Collins, and Commissioner Faauuga Moliga in part due to the renaming also quickly gained support. Organizers hope to get the 70,000 signatures need to trigger an election.
“We are parents, not politicians, and intend to stay that way,” recall petition organizer Siva Raj said last week in a San Francisco Chronicle interview. “We are determined to ensure San Francisco’s public schools provide a quality education for every kid in the city.”
Former San Diego Mayor and Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kevin Faulconer has been one of the most predominant critics of the renaming, even making his stance against the school name changes an early part of his campaign.
“San Francisco’s school board has prioritized removing the name outside this school, over the education that should be happening inside this school. President Lincoln should be celebrated, not canceled. Getting rid of Lincoln’s and Washington’s name is outrageous,” said Faulconer earlier this month.
The unexpectedly large number of people against the decision put the school board on the defensive, with many members either backtracking on the extent of renaming or noting that they were now suddenly open to more discussion and community input in early February.
An indefinite delay to the school renaming process
However, as the petitions grew in strength during the month, and the growing number of San Franciscans against the changes and wanting schools to reopen not relenting all month, Board President Lopez finally gave in on Sunday, delaying the renaming process until after schools have fully in-person classes once again.
“I also acknowledge and take responsibility for mistakes made in the building renaming process,” Lopez tweeted on Sunday. “We need to slow down and provide more opportunities for community input – that cannot happen until AFTER our schools are back in person. This is the last time I’ll comment publicly on renaming until schools are reopened. We will not be taking valuable time from our board agendas to further discuss this, as we need to prioritize reopening.”
I also acknowledge and take responsibility for mistakes made in the building renaming process. We need to slow down and provide more opportunities for community input – that cannot happen until AFTER our schools are back in person.
— Madam President, Gabriela López (@lopez4schools) February 22, 2021
In a follow up statement, Lopez clarified and noted that the school renaming vote had been in the works for quite some time and that there would be a “more deliberative process” in the future, such as community input and adding historians into the process to give their opinion.
“We finally got to them,” said San Francisco parent and school volunteer organizer Mandy Chung to the Globe. “The schools not reopening due to lingering COVID fears have really been hurting our kids. The city even sued over the mental health effects. I mean, we have the lowest case rate in the nation and we are still not open? What is wrong with them?”
“And the school renamings are so misprioritized and not needed. We need to focus on education, not changing history like this. The cost alone to change things would be staggering enough. However bad you think people here are mad about this it’s really ten times worse.”
School renaming talks are expected to resume sometime this year following students fully returning to classrooms full-time.