George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and even Sen. Dianne Feinstein have been deemed too problematic to be featured in the names of schools in the San Francisco Unified School District by a panel of 12 community members appointed by the superintendent.
Three weeks ago, the panel found that 44 of the 125 schools in the district might have to change their names after their review. KGO reported that panel members sought to rename schools currently featuring the names of, "anyone directly involved in the colonization of people, slave owners or participants in enslavement, perpetrators of genocide or slavery, those who exploit workers/people, those who directly oppressed or abused women, children, queer or transgender people, those connected to any human rights or environmental abuse [and] those who are known racists and/or white supremacists and/or espoused racist beliefs."
The Chronicle reported Wednesday that parents and principals were formally asked this week to brainstorm potential new names by Dec. 18, a move that was not well-received given the fact that schools are still in distanced learning due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The school board will then vote on any potential name changes in January or February of 2021.
In a statement sent to SFGATE, the SFUSD said, "Any final decision to change school names rests with the elected members of the Board of Education. As part of this process, the committee has requested input from schools by the end of this semester. Schools are not required or mandated to participate in this process. This is a process being led by an advisory committee. The district appreciates that the advisory committee’s timing may be difficult for schools, and has conveyed concerns to the advisory committee regarding the challenges of making recommendations at this time given that we are in distance learning due to the pandemic."
Schools named after former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are on the list due to the two presidents' slave-owning status, and a school named after Abraham Lincoln is on the list because of his treatment of Native Americans.
Dianne Feinstein Elementary School made the list because she reportedly replaced a vandalized Confederate flag flying outside City Hall when she was mayor in 1984. Progressives have recently been irate at Feinstein after her embrace of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham at the end of the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court nomination hearings.
Also on the list is El Dorado Elementary School, because panel members took issue with the concept of El Dorado.
“The concept of El Dorado, especially in California, had a lot to do with the search of gold, and for the indigenous people that meant the death of them,” panel member Mary Travis Allen said during a September meeting. “I don’t think the concept of greed and lust for gold is a concept we want our children to be given.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the potential name changes "offensive" given the fact that schools are still closed when city and state health orders allow in-person education to resume.
"The School District and the Board of Education need to do what needs to be done to get our kids back in school," she said in a statement released Friday. "And now, in the midst of this once in a century challenge, to hear that the District is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools — schools that they haven’t even opened — is offensive. It’s offensive to parents who are juggling their children’s daily at-home learning schedules with doing their own jobs and maintaining their sanity. It’s offensive to me as someone who went to our public schools, who loves our public schools, and who knows how those years in the classroom are what lifted me out of poverty and into college. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends."
Some parents were also less than thrilled about the process, especially at a time the district still has yet to articulate a full plan to reopen in-person instruction.
"Principals are devoting resources to this," parent Jonathan Alloy told The Chronicle.
"We’re not actually helping disadvantaged children by changing the name of the school they can’t attend," Alloy added.