The names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, American's 1st and 16th presidents - the latter of whom ended slavery - will be stripped from public schools in San Francisco, after the school board voted 6-1 Tuesday in favor of renaming 44 San Francisco school sites over connections to slavery, oppression, racism or similar criteria, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In addition to presidents, conquistadors and authors, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein's name was added to the cancel list because she replaced a vandalized Confederate flag in 1984 while serving as Mayor. The flag had been displayed in front of City Hall. When it was pulled down a second time, she did not replace it.
According to critics, the methodology used to cancel historical figures was 'slapdash,' and included little to no input from historians, as well as a lack of information on the basis for each recommendation. In one instance reported by the Chronicle, the committee didn't know whether Roosevelt Middle School was named after Theodore or Franklin Delano.
"I must admit there are reasons to support this resolution, but I can’t," said community member Jean Barish, adding "These are not decisions that should be made in haste."
School board members, however, have insisted that the renaming is timely and important, given the country’s reckoning with a racist past. They have argued the district is capable of pursuing multiple priorities at the same time, responding to critics who say more pressing issues deserve attention.
In some schools, families argued for a name change for years, including those at James Denman Middle School, named after the first superintendent, a racist leader who denied Chinese students a public education. Others argued that current names mean students are wearing school sweatshirts with the names of slave owners, including Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. -SF Chronicle
Board member Mark Sanchez defended the action, saying "It’s a message to our families, our students and our community," adding "It’s not just symbolic. It’s a moral message."
The board's lone "no" vote, Kevine Boggess, said that while he didn't agree with all the recommendations and their criteria, his vote was largely based on his opposition to naming schools after elected officials - which makes no sense.
Parent Nguyen Louie is in favor of changing the name of her childrens' school, Junipero Serra Elementary, named after a colonizer. "We should not honor him with the name of our elementary school."
According to the report, 80% of San Francisco parents are in favor of changing the name.
"Give us a chance to come up with our own new name," Nguyen added. "One we can be proud of."
The months-long debate garnered national attention, with former President Donald Trump tweeting about it, stoking an ongoing culture war that has intensified in recent months.
Many San Francisco parents — as well as Mayor London Breed — argued the effort was ill-timed given the pandemic and the impact on children, especially students of color, and the fact that students are not even in the schools subject to renaming. Some criticized the board Tuesday for focusing on symbolism rather than the urgent reality facing struggling students, who are approaching a year in distance learning, with many struggling academically, socially and emotionally.
And the renaming is likely to be costly.
It’s unclear how much the district will spend on new signage, repainted sports fields or gym floors, athletic, band or other uniforms, and other administrative costs. But based on other districts across the country, it could cost San Francisco at least $1 million to rename the 44 school sites and potentially significantly more.
The district faces a significant budget deficit, which could reach $75 million next school year. -SF Chronicle
Of note, while the school board found time to address this pressing issue, they failed to discuss any items related to the academic or health impact on students, or about reopening schools. Instead, most of the meeting was dedicated to issues relating to racism - such as their unanimous vote to issue a formal apology to Native American families for land theft, along with the "pain and trauma caused by racist imagery, textbooks and mascots, while allocating $200,000 for the district’s American Indian Education program." The district's measure will also require the removal of all Thanksgiving stereotypes such as headdresses, and the removal of inaccurate depictions of Pocahontas from history books as a "willing and curious prisoner."