The San Francisco Board of Education has decided to kick some presidents’ names off of public school buildings in the city, in an apparent bid to challenge racism and oppression.
The school board recently approved a resolution to rename 44 of the 125 schools in its district because their names honor people with ties to slavery, racism, genocide and other kinds of oppression, reports CBS News. The resolution goes further than removing the names of known Confederate leaders, which numerous schools across the country have done over the last year. Among those whose names will be removed from the schools in San Francisco are former presidents and slaveowners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as Abraham Lincoln—who the committee leading the renaming effort said mistreated Native Americans during his administration.
An elementary school named after Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will also be renamed because, while serving as San Francisco’s mayor in 1994, Feinstein had replaced a Confederate flag in front of the City Hall that had been vandalized. The flag was pulled down again and Feinstein did not replace it, but that was enough to get her name on the list for nixing. The board voted 6-1 to change a total of 44 names.
“This in no way cancels or erases history,” Board President Gabriela Lopez told CBS. “But it does shift from upholding them and honoring them, and these opportunities are a great way to have that conversation about our past and have an opportunity to uplift new voices.”
Schools will now have to suggest new names to the board by April for approval.
It seems like an odd measure to institute right now, and I can’t help but wonder who asked for it. But according to the San Francisco Chronicle, 80 percent of parents surveyed had been in favor of the school name overhaul. A committee started considering the move in 2018.
San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed on Wednesday questioned the wisdom of the renaming process given the urgent challenges students are experiencing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and school lockdowns.
“I understand the significance of the name of a school, and a school’s name should instill a feeling of pride in every student that walks through its doors, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation,” said Breed, who is a Black woman. “What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April when there isn’t a plan to get kids back in the classroom by then.”
Breed added that she believes the conversation about renaming schools should have involved the input of children who attend them.
Several parents also criticized the board for making the decision without holding more discussions with community members and historical experts who could help inform the process. Apparently, while deciding which schools to rename, the committee spent time debating whether a school had been named for Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Delano Roosevelt.