SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – America’s founding fathers received a reprieve Tuesday in San Francisco when the city’s scandal-plagued school board formally overturned a plan to rename 44 schools in what critically considered a racial bill that had gone too far.
The city’s education authority that convened on Zoom unanimously voted to reverse its much-criticized decision to strip the names of one-third of San Francisco’s public schools. Among them were schools named after Presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, writer Robert Louis Stevenson, and Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere. Also on the list was a school named after long-time Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Tuesday’s 6-0 decision means school authorities will withdraw their vote from January and will re-examine the matter after all students return to full-time study in person. There is no specific schedule.
The renaming debacle was one of several self-inflicted controversies the San Francisco School Board faced during the pandemic, along with numerous lawsuits and public ridicule.
Parents, students and elected officials blew up the board over some of its goals – and timing. The decision was made in late January when all public classrooms in San Francisco were closed due to coronavirus restrictions. You still are. Mayor London Breed called it “offensive and totally unacceptable”, among other things, for the board of directors to focus on changing the names of the schools rather than bringing the children back into the classrooms.
Some of the city’s youngest students are expected to return to face-to-face teaching this month after more than a year of distance learning due to the pandemic. There is no return schedule for middle and high school students.
The renaming efforts have also been criticized for historical inaccuracies and poor research, in which Wikipedia rather than historians were consulted.
A renaming advisory board falsely accused Paul Revere of wanting to colonize the Penobscot people. It also confused the Alamo Elementary School’s name with the Battle of Texas rather than the Spanish word for poplar.
“While we’re at it, what about the renaming to San Francisco?” Wrote columnist and town clerk Carl Nolte after the vote in the San Francisco Chronicle, noting that the town was named by missionaries after a Roman Catholic saint . “That clearly fits in with the guidelines for a new name.”
Feinstein Elementary made the list because, when she was mayor in 1984, it was decided to replace a destroyed Confederate flag that was part of a longstanding exhibition outside City Hall. If the flag was pulled down a second time, it was not replaced.
“It feels like the truth won this time,” Seeyew Mo, San Francisco family director, said of Tuesday’s vote. His group rejected the renaming process and drew attention to the flawed research.
“I’m glad they came to their senses – after legal proceedings and public pressure,” said Mo, who also protested the board’s “top-down process” in which a small group made the decision without the wider school community. “A lot of people agree with the idea of revisiting names, but they just disagree with how it was done.”
The renaming process was led by a committee established in 2018 to investigate the names of county schools as part of a national settlement of racial injustices following deadly clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Schools and institutions across the country are currently considering changing names when the country re-evaluates its heroes.
The San Francisco committee found that those “involved in the subjugation and enslavement of people, oppressed women, stunted social progress, or whose actions led to genocide, or who otherwise severely restricted the opportunities of those of us right now.” Life, Freedom, and the Pursuit of Happiness “shouldn’t be named schools after them.
The result sparked an outcry in California that the web was too widespread, and social media and right-wing news sites that denied political correctness went wrong.
Board chairwoman Gabriela Lopez said in February that the process would be suspended until all the children were back in school. Lopez admitted in a statement that mistakes had been made in school selection and said when the board got back on the matter it would involve historians for a “more deliberate process”.
Since the renaming, the board has received several lawsuits. The city of San Francisco took the dramatic step of suing the school district and board of directors to pressure both of them to reopen classrooms faster. Another motion was filed in March by San Francisco attorney Paul Scott, whose children are attending public schools. The school board’s renaming decision violated the California Open Congregation Act and did not involve the community.
San Francisco Supreme Court Justice Ethan Schulman issued a ruling asking the board to do what the lawsuit requires – overturn the vote and dissolve the advisory committee on the renaming – or by April 16 to show why he shouldn’t be forced to do so.
The resolution passed on Tuesday ignored the criticism but denounced the lawsuit, saying it wanted to “avoid the distraction and wasteful spending of public funds in frivolous litigation.”
Tuesday’s meeting was also the first since the board decided last week to remove one of its members, Alison Collins, from her role as Vice President and other titles over 2016 tweets about Asian Americans.
In the tweets, Collins said that Asian Americans think “white supremacists” to get ahead. She defied calls to resign and last week sued the school district and five of her six colleagues on charges of violating their freedom of speech. She is demanding $ 87 million in damages.
The historian Harold Holzer called the school authority’s first attempt to rename an “overcorrection”. Holzer does not agree to remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from a high school, which, according to the San Francisco Committee, was due to the treatment of Indians during his tenure.
“I know people want to be inspired and not worship false idols,” said Holzer, a Lincoln Scholar and director of the Roosevelt House of Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. “But to be honest, for me there is still no better example of American history at the highest level of idealism than Abraham Lincoln.”
In the middle of the Civil War in 1863, Lincoln issued the Declaration of Emancipation, which freed slaves in the Confederation, including achievements out of poverty to become president, fight for equal opportunities and save the country from division.
“If Lincoln doesn’t win, we’ll have big problems,” said Holzer. “The successes so far outweigh the mistakes. I think he deserves recognition.”
This story has been corrected to show that the City of San Francisco sued its school board, but the lawsuit was not filed by the mayor.