Un-Canceled: SF School Board Formally Rescinds Move To Rename Schools After Lincoln, Washington, Feinstein


The San Francisco Board of Education has formally reversed its decision to rename more than forty public schools with names they deemed problematic or connected to racism and oppression, including schools named after George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, several months after their attempted rebranding initiative tossed them into the national spotlight.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the school board voted unanimously for a resolution to overturn the school renaming decision, which would have required a large-scale and potentially costly effort at the expense of taxpayers. The outcome of the vote was expected and was designed to avoid litigation from opponents of the policy who have alleged the board violated state law by not giving proper notification ahead of the vote.

The school board’s resolution, however, vows to revisit the issue of renaming the so-called problematic schools once students have returned to classrooms full-time. It also accused those who filed the resolution of engaging in “nothing more than a transparent attempt to thwart a lawful and duly-noticed action with which it disagrees.”

The resolution Tuesday brings a formal — but likely temporary — end to an effort that prompted widespread criticism of the city’s school board, a body composed of only a handful of elected officials who usually go unnoticed, especially at the national level.

Back in October, POLITICO, citing the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that Dianne Feinstein Elementary School was on a list of public schools names that the San Francisco School Names Advisory Committee had deemed to be problematic. As The Chronicle noted, the elementary school named after the long-time California senator “made the list because, as mayor in 1986, Feinstein reportedly replaced a vandalized Confederate flag, one of several historic flags flying in front of City Hall at the time.” A spokesperson for Feinstein has since said the flag preceded her and was replaced by a department without her input, and that she later consulted with the board of supervisors and had it removed, reports The New York Times.

Feinstein, however, was only one of the dozens of school names that met the committee’s sweeping criteria, which included everyone from those who exploited workers, to those who abused women, children, or transgender people, to those who espoused racism. Abraham Lincoln High School found itself on the list because of the 16th president’s treatment of Native Americans; Lowell High School, one of the nation’s most prestigious public schools, was targeted because the advisory committee said the 19th-century abolitionist James Russell Lowell “wavered” in his commitment to the anti-slavery movement and “in his opinion of African Americans,” according to the local news site Richmond Review/Sunset Beacon.

The school board ultimately voted 6-1 to rename nearly one-third of its public schools — all while they were closed for in-person learning — with new names to be selected at a later date.

But in late January, San Francisco’s Mission Local published a highly critical report on how the district’s re-naming endeavor was “beset by ignorance and incompetence” and contained major factual errors. From Mission Local:

While reading out a Wikipedia entry on the beliefs of 19th-century poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell, a committee member stated that “he did not want Black people to vote.” In point of fact, a scholarly biography of the high school’s namesake states that the he “unequivocally advocated giving the ballot to the recently freed slaves.” The citation provided to justify the striking of Paul Revere’s name from a K-8 school was a Top-10 list from the History Channel website. That article notes Revere was court-martialed for alleged cowardice and insubordination following the disastrous “Penobscot Expedition” against the British in 1779. During a back-and-forth in a renaming committee meeting, however, this ignominious Revolutionary War military defeat was, by some alchemy, tied to the conquest of the Penobscot Indians, which was partially attributed to Revere. This is a telephone game-like invention of fact, and never happened. In reality, per the article fr... (Read more)

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