The San Francisco school board voted to change the name of 44 schools named after former presidents, conquistadors, authors, and current U.S senator Dianne Feinstein.
Schools bearing the names of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and other historical figures will be changing their names after the school board voted 6-1.
Lincoln and Washington are some of the dozens of figures deemed “racists” and “oppressors of human rights” by the school board.
“Uprooting the problematic names and symbols that currently clutter buildings, streets, throughout the city is a worthy endeavor,” said Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the renaming committee on the school board. “Only good can come from the public being reflective and intentional about the power of our words, names and rhetoric within our public institutions.”
Surprisingly, an elementary school named after current Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein happened to be under the crosshairs of the school board because of an incident in the ’80s while Feinstein was the mayor of San Francisco. Feinstein replaced a vandalized Confederate flag that was flown in front of City Hall.
“On a local level, Dianne Feinstein chose to fly a flag that is the iconography of domestic terrorism, racism, white avarice and inhumanity towards Black and Indigenous people at the City Hall,” said Jeffries. “She is one of the few living examples on our list, so she still has time to dedicate the rest of her life to the upliftment of Black, First Nations and other people of color. She hasn’t thus far, so her apology simply wasn’t convincing.”
In a spreadsheet created by the school board, the justification for removing Lincoln from the school revolves around his treatment of Native Americans.
“The discussion for Lincoln centered around his treatment of First Nation peoples, because that was offered first,” said Jeffries. “Once he met criteria in that way, we did not belabor the point.”
Lincoln’s alleged mistreatment of Native Americans stems from his support of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the transcontinental railroad, which according to the school district, led to the “significant loss of land and natural resources, as well as the loss of lifestyle and culture, for many Indigenous peoples.”
Jeffries also downplayed Lincoln’s contributions to the black community during that time period.
“The history of Lincoln and Native Americans is complicated, not nearly as well known as that of the Civil War and slavery,” said Jeffries. “Lincoln, like the presidents before him and most after, did not show through policy or rhetoric that Black lives ever mattered to them outside of human capital and as casualties of wealth building.”
“I want to ensure people this in no way cancels or erases history,” said San Francisco Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez. “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.”
Some parents believe the timing of the renaming is ridiculous, considering the ongoing pandemic.
“This move, in light of the disastrous year this has been, feels terribly disrespectful to the parents who are really struggling right now,” said parent of a San Francisco student Matt Price. “It’s a well meaning exercise and I’m certainly not opposed, but it’s very, very badly timed.”
“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, including one who attends a San Francisco public school.
“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,” said Kanapathy. “But they sort of decided on this and pushed it through without much community input.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who is black, called out the move, calling it poorly timed given the fact that schools have been closed since March due to the pandemic.
“Our students are suffering, and we should be talking about getting them in classrooms, getting them mental health support and getting them the resources they need in this challenging time,” said Breed.
Breed stated that she supports the renaming of schools, but feels that parents, students, and other stakeholders should be involved in the decision and that this decision should happen while students are in classrooms.
The remaining process stated in 2018 after the clash at Charlottesville, Virginia and was amplified after the George Floyd killing.