Story at a glance

  • The San Francisco Unified School District Board voted in favor of a resolution that calls for removing the names of historical figures with ties to slavery, oppression or racism.
  • The move has sparked backlash, including criticism over renaming a school named after President Abraham Lincoln.
  • The timing of the effort has also been questioned as schools are still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision by the San Francisco school board to move forward with replacing the names of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other prominent historical figures from dozens of public schools is getting some pushback from residents, public officials and advocacy groups. 

The San Francisco Board of Education voted 6-1 Tuesday in favor of a resolution that calls for the removal of the name of figures “who engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions 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,” according to the text of the resolution. 


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The renaming process was led by a committee created in 2018 to study the names of schools amid a national reckoning on race that followed the deadly white supremist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Schools set to be renamed include Abraham Lincoln High School, George Washington High School, Dianne Feinstein Elementary, Roosevelt Middle School, Jefferson Elementary and Alamo Elementary. 

While Washington and Thomas Jefferson were chosen because they were slave-owners, Lincoln, most known for leading the U.S. to defeat the Confederacy and enacting measures to abolish slavery, was recommended due to his reported treatment of Native Americans. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) name is on the list after the former San Francisco mayor allegedly ordered a Confederate flag to be replaced after it was torn down, the Sacramento Bee reports.

“This is an opportunity for our students to learn about the history of our school’s names, including the potential new ones,” Board President Gabriela López said in a statement. “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. I am excited about the ideas schools will come up with.” 

Schools have until April to suggest new names the board will vote on. 

But the move has sparked criticism for various reasons. 

“This is a bit of a joke. It’s almost like a parody of leftist activism,” said Gerald Kanapathy, a father of a kindergartener at a San Francisco school not on the list to be renamed, according to The Associated Press

Lope Yap Jr., vice president of San Francisco’s George Washington High School alumni association, pushed back against the board’s decision.

“We feel that whether socialist, conservative or independent, if you honor truth in history, politics needs to be put to the side,” Yap told The New York Post. “We don’t want to erase things.” 

“They forget that abolitionists praised Abraham Lincoln,” he told the outlet. 

After the vote, San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) lashed out at the decision, questioning the board’s priorities.

“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,” Breed said in a statement

“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 have our kids back in the classroom by then,” she said, as schools are still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Meanwhile, more than 9,000 people have signed an online petition asking the school board to “stop wasting time and money renaming the schools and focus on educating our kids.” 

Advocacy group Families for San Francisco also opposed the move, saying it was a top-down process in which the board made the decision without properly consulting experts and the wider community. 

The San Francisco Board of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Changing America. 


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Published on Jan 29, 2021