Back in January, the San Francisco Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to rename more than 40 schools as supporters cheered the board for “unapologetically” targeting historical figures they deemed racist, including Abraham Lincoln.
That set off a political furor that subjected the school board to local and national ridicule. On Tuesday, that same board is expected to approve a resolution that would officially suspend renaming efforts.
The school board will return to the renaming issue later — after students are back in classrooms full time, the board’s leader stated Monday.
“There is a hope and opportunity to uplift communities that are often underrepresented,” board President Gabriela López said. “It deserves more full attention than we’re able to give right now.”
For months, the school renaming controversy has roiled the city, distracting local leaders from the COVID-19 pandemic, angering parents eager for classrooms to reopen and putting school board members — some of whom face a potential recall by voters — on the defensive. The board’s action Tuesday may tamp down some anger but will leave unresolved the question of what names are culturally appropriate in San Francisco, a city whose name originated from Spanish colonialists.
It was back in early 2020 that a San Francisco Unified School District committee convened, tasked with considering whether to change school names allegedly associated with slaveholding, colonization or oppression.
After about 10 meetings, the committee of parents, students, educators and community members suggested that the full school board rename 42 schools — a third of all public schools in San Francisco — including those honoring individuals such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
When the school voted to change the recommended names, Jeremiah Jeffries, a teacher and leader of the renaming committee, was elated.
“We are unapologetically going after white supremacy, white supremacist symbols, and making these changes that people have been demanding for years,” Jeffries said at the meeting.
A torrent of criticism erupted nationwide. Some local residents decried the renaming panel’s research, which relied in part on Wikipedia articles, and alleged the board did not adequately include community members in the process. Many within the school communities supported the panel’s efforts and celebrated the prospect of a host of new school names.
Former President Trump weighed in, retweeting a Daily Caller article about the recommendation and calling it “Crazy!”
Then the lawsuits rolled in.
First, the district’s timing on reopening led to the extraordinary circumstance in which the city of San Francisco sued its own school district, trying to force the board’s hand to bring students back to in-person learning. Students will begin returning to classrooms next week, and López said the board is committed to bringing them all back by fall.
Then a group of disgruntled high school alumni associations and community stakeholders, led by attorney Paul Scott, threatened to sue, alleging the school board violated the Brown Act, which governs how public meetings are run, and denied due process to school community members.
Soon, López announced that the board would pause the renaming process in February, and the efforts ground to a halt, according to Tuesday’s proposed resolution. But the group led by Scott made good on its promise to mount a lawsuit against the district, to force it to make the announcement legally binding. The court ordered the district to change its resolution, or show evidence why it hadn’t done so, by May.
The resolution up for a vote Tuesday afternoon called it a “distraction” and “frivolous litigation.”…