San Francisco School District Makes Controversial Decision to Change Names of 44 School Sites
By Jack Pedrotti
On January 26th, 2021, the San Francisco School District Board decided with a vote of 6-1 to move forward with the renaming process of 44 sites in the district. The movement to rename schools began in 2018 when the district (home to 114 schools) decided to recruit a blue ribbon panel to do an evaluation of 46 site names. Members of the San Francisco Union School District community called for an evaluation of the district’s school names due to a plethora of concerns, such as the country beginning to reckon with its racist past and possible trauma for students who have to attend a school named after a slave owner or someone who committed genocide. The evaluation, which was ultimately delayed until early 2020, was aimed to determine the relevance and appropriateness of the historical figures the sites are named after. After nearly a year of in-depth evaluation, the panel recommended the renaming of 44 of the sites, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln high schools. This led to a school board vote, where it was ultimately decided that the renaming would move forward.
The schools to be renamed are currently named after individuals who are connected to slavery, abuse of women or children, racism or support of racist beliefs, and those who showed other discriminatory traits. The committee decided that certain acts committed by these historical figures warrant the removal of their names. For example, Abraham Lincoln ordered a mass hanging of Native Americans after an uprising, and the committee decided that this event was enough to trump the good that he did during his life and time as president. The members of the committee, who submitted applications and were approved by the board, came to a consensus about each of the sites before proposing the list of schools to be renamed to the board.
Now that the vote has been concluded and the decision to rename the schools is final, the next steps are beginning to unfold. Students, families, and staff of the schools with impending name changes will have until mid-April to vote on a new name. Along with a Google Form where members of the community can submit suggestions for new names, the District Board also released a list of “Guiding Principles” which outline the criteria for the proposed names of the schools. Among the possible new namesakes for schools are prominent figures such as Barack and Michelle Obama, poets, and civil rights activists. However, there are suggestions for names that are not people, like animals, plants, geographical locations, or even adopting a number system similar to the New York City Public School System. The name changes, which will include changes in signage, athletic venues, and uniforms for athletes and performing arts will likely take months or a year. While the district has not yet done an in depth analysis of the cost, based on other school districts who have made similar changes the cost is estimated to be upwards of $1 million.
This decision did not come without opposition or backlash. This begins with the one “no” vote on the board. Kevine Boggess, who grew up in San Francisco, was not opposed to changing the names of the schools, but was adamant about renaming all schools that are named after people, after locations, animals, plants, and things related to San Francisco history. Even after the decision was passed, there was extreme backlash from the community. Parents argued that this decision should not be a priority as the district, which houses over 52,000 students, has been completely distance learning since the lockdown in March, and there are no plans for the students to return to school anytime soon. Members of the community also feel that their opinion was not taken into account during the process of choosing the schools to be renamed and pointed out that no historians were included on the committee. Some feel that this is a waste of budget, as the district is already facing a $75 million budget deficit for this year, and the renaming process could cost up to a few million dollars.