SAN FRANCISCO—On Tuesday, January 27, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Board of Education passed a resolution furthering the process of renaming schools, after reviewing 46 campuses that have been recommended by a volunteer panel. The Google Doc is accessible to the public, and as of that date, a list of 44 schools were recommended for renaming.
George Washington High School was on the list of schools to be renamed, and the historical figure was called a “slave owner” and “colonizer” by the Board of Education. Balboa High School, Abraham Lincoln High School, and Lowell High School were also among those proposed for the name change. The main source cited by the SFUSD Board was Wikipedia.
According to the text of Resolution 211-12A, In Support of a Formal Process in the Renaming of San Francisco Unified School District, the name change is motivated by a desire to rename schools named after historical figures involved in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; the oppression of women, inhibiting societal progress; actions that led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Lowell High School, named after James Russel Lowell, was placed under the “Why Change?” category. A segment of text that was copied and pasted off of Wikipedia included information about his racist views towards African Americans despite being an abolitionist, as well as sympathies towards the White Southern rebels.
Abraham Lincoln was included due to Lincoln’s treatment of First Nations. Balboa High School, named after a Spanish explorer, was included due to the historical figure’s history of killing “hundreds of indigenous people.”
The purpose of the resolution is only to further the goal of replacing the names; an ongoing process. The process began in the spring of 2018, the San Francisco Board of Education established a “blue ribbon panel” to review San Francisco school names. When members applied as volunteers and were ratified by the Board of Education, their task was to assess the “appropriateness” of SFUSD school names honoring historical figures.
SFUSD Board of Education President Gabriella Lopez said the “blue ribbon panel” efforts to rename SFUSD schools came in the light of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, involving Confederate and neo-Nazi sympathizers. The conflict between right-wing protesters and counter-protesters, which included a car-ramming attack by a ring-wing demonstrator, killed one person and injured 28 others.
“This resolution came to the school board in the wake of the attacks in Charlottesville, and we are working alongside the rest of the country to dismantle symbols of racism and white supremacy culture,” Lopez said.
“This is an opportunity for our students to learn about the history of our school’s names, including the potential new ones,” she said.
Regarding her desire to dismantle “symbols of racism and white supremacy,” she said there was excitement for “the ideas schools would come up with.”
BOE Vice President Alison Collins said she was offended at the criticism they were receiving, saying they are against moves to dismantle “white supremacy culture.” On Twitter she posted: “Wondering why the SF School Board is getting so much attention lately? Any time we make moves to dismantle white supremacy culture, we see these types of reactions.”
According to the text of In Support of a Formal Process in the Renaming of San Francisco Unified School District, the “blue ribbon panel” has forwarded the names of more than 40 school sites for potential renaming to SFUSD Board of Education leadership. On April 19, 2021 the suggested new names will be reviewed by the panel, at which time the panel will make its final recommendations to the Board of Education.
Figures including Thomas Edison were proposed for renaming, due to incidents such as animal cruelty. “Thomas Edison had a fondness for electrocuting animals, and did a whole sting of animals including Topsy the Elephant, who was a well loved circus elephant during that time.”
Community members posted on VP Alison Collins’s Twitter account, criticizing the efforts to rename schools. One user named “Mati” wrote, “The only thing you’re dismantling is education.” Karsten Weide suggested Collins reopen schools, for the BOE has made little progress in plans to return to in-person learning. “Because you are incompetent? Also could you please explain to your constituents how naming a school after the man who emancipated black people is “white supremacy”? For heaven’s sake, just do your job. Open schools.”
SFUSD schools moved to distance learning to minimize the spread of COVID-19. According to an official SFUSD report, 910 students attended class less than 40% of the time. Private and charter schools in San Francisco opened after meeting guidelines, and 114 of such schools were approved for reopening, both for indoor and outdoor instruction. All San Francisco schools must meet the Department of Public Health’s health directive for reopening before resuming in-person learning.
The SFUSD announced in a press release that it did not meet the first step in the goal of returning students to in-person learning in small cohorts on January 25, 2021, and preparations are made for that return to happen in the fall semester. Those preparations include a plan to establish COVID testing sites, first at the administrative office at 555 Franklin, and then expanding to other parts of the school district as needed.
Collins said she was offended by criticism in one Tweet, as the Google Doc used for the school renaming research relied on Wikipedia.
In response, Sean Rose asked why as a “former English teacher,” would she use Wikipedia as a source. “As a former English teacher, what credit would you give for a woeful misreading and citing of…Wikipedia?”
Trevor Tillman noted the level of education and writing ability of SFUSD Board of Education members. “It’s almost like San Francisco’s school board is occupied by people with 8th grade literacy levels, and that is being kind.”
Twitter users noted Collins’s rejection of criticism and her calling of disagreement as influenced by “Fox News.”
Dave Brown criticized the SFUSD Board of Education members’ behavior and their rejection of criticism. “Criticism of your misplaced priorities is justified. Dismissing the Chronicle, Mission Local, Mother Jones as “Fox News” equivalents is laughably dishonest.”
Brent Andrew wrote: “Because, of course, anyone with a different opinion = Fox News, right Alison?”
One user under an account dedicated to pointing out social ills, wrote: “Are schools open? Are students doing very poorly? How are parents doing? Which facts did we get wrong?”
Board of Education President Gabriella Lopez, with a degree in gender studies, became Vice President at age 28 in 2019 after teaching elementary school for two years. She boasted she was the “youngest person ever” to become a school board official. Community members wrote about behavior they deemed to be childish on Twitter.
On her Tweet complaining about her parking space being taken, one observer wrote: “Are we sure this is a school board official? Because she sounds like a school child. An elementary school child.”
Gabriella Lopez’s middle finger Tweet became notable, and becoming viral, was circulated on Twitter as evidence of immaturity.
People called for the recall or resignation of President Lopez or even the entire removal of the current SFUSD Board of Education members. Sworn into office in January of 2019, two new members, Matt Alexander and Kevine Boggess, echo propaganda about skin color and race in the United States, and parrot accusations against those who do not agree with them, associating them with right-wing politics.
According to SFUSD findings for the fall 2020 semester, in reading, learning loss was greatest among elementary school students. High school and middle school student performance saw improvement. In mathematics, elementary school students saw gains overall. Middle and high school students “mostly kept pace,” according to the report.
As of fall 2020, 56 percent of SFUSD students according to data can read at proficient levels, compared to 50 percent in the previous year. For mathematics, 69 percent were deemed proficient, the same percentage during the previous year.