The petition calls on San Francisco’s school board to rescind its decision late last month to rename 44 schools in the city that bear the names of former presidents and other historical figures, as well as that of a former mayor of the city.
The board’s action follows the lead of other liberal jurisdictions across the country in stripping from schools and other public buildings the names of people they say were slave owners, racist, or politically incorrect in one way or another.
Among the schools set for renaming by April honor former Presidents George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt; American Revolution patriot Paul Revere; Francis Scott Key, composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner”; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who served as the city’s mayor from 1978 to 1988; and 33 others.
As of Monday afternoon, the petition on Change.org, started by an organization calling itself A San Francisco That Works for Everyone, had garnered more than 3,900 signatures, with a goal of 5,000.
“Our teachers, principals, and parents are working night and day to safely reopen schools. The last thing they need is the distraction of a political battle over renaming San Francisco schools,” the petition reads. “Our school board should focus on improving schools—not renaming them.”
The school board’s 6-1 vote on Jan. 26 stemmed from a 2018 resolution that called for rebranding schools named after historical figures that district officials consider to have “significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“I want to ensure people this in no way cancels or erases history,” San Francisco Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez said at the time, when asked about the list of historical figures. “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.”
In an interview with the New Yorker magazine published Feb. 6, Lopez denied the move was a censoring of history. “There’s this idea that because we’re removing the names we’re somehow removing the stories in what we’re learning, and that in fact is not the case,” she insisted.
The petition, meanwhile, clearly suggests that not all San Francisco residents are onboard with the sweeping action of the school board.
“I support some of the schools being renamed, but there are a lot of schools that do not need to be renamed,” an unidentified student at Lowell High School, one of the schools on the renaming list, said in public comment, according to The Guardian.
“There is a lot of historical negligence that happened because they do not have a historian on the advisory committee,” the sophomore student said, adding:
On the Google sheet of the renaming committee, they cite Wikipedia as a source. As a high school student at Lowell, I’m not even allowed to use Wikipedia as a source for my history papers, let alone to spend millions of dollars to rename a school that may not even need to be renamed.
The move, if not rescinded, will likely cost San Francisco’s school district millions of dollars. The schools would need to replace signage, buy new sports and band uniforms, remove references to the old name on stationery and elsewhere, repaint logos on gym floors, and more. The school board, even before the vote, was already confronting a two-year, $169 million deficit.
“This is a bit of a joke. It’s almost like a parody of leftist activism,” said Gerald Kanapathy, a father of two young children, one of whom attends a city school not on the list, according to The Associated Press.
“I don’t particularly mind the notion that some of the schools need to be renamed. There are a lot of questionable choices out there,” he said. “But they sort of decided on this and pushed it through without much community input.”
Even San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the school board’s action poorly timed, particularly given the city’s schools having been closed since last March. Breed said that parents, students, and others should be involved in the renaming decisions and that it should take place when classrooms reopen.
“What I cannot understand is why the school board is advancing a plan of all these schools renamed by April when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” Breed said in a statement, according to the New Yorker.
To that end, the city on Feb. 3 sued its own school board and school district over their failure to release a “meaningful plan for how or when in-person” learning will begin again.
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