The San Francisco Unified School District hit “pause” on renaming 44 schools named after allegedly controversial historical figures, the San Francisco Gate reported Monday, and has promised to consult historians rather than Wikipedia if they look to make any changes in the future.
Instead, newly elected San Francisco school board president, Gabriela López, said in a statement that she plans to make reopening schools a priority, ahead of tangling with the vestiges of systemic racism as outlined by her district’s “renaming committee.”
“Reopening will be our only focus until our children and young people are back in school,” Lopez wrote in her statement, which also canceled all future meetings for the district’s renaming committee. In a separate social media post, Lopez said she is “committed to focusing the board’s attention on getting our students back into the classroom. I’m committed to making sure every student and family at SFUSD is supported through this process.”
San Francisco’s school board voted back in January to rename 44 schools named after allegedly controversial historical figures, including presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, founding father Paul Revere, and longtime Democratic senator from California, Dianne Feinstein.
Shortly after the vote was taken, however, a parents group revealed that the district’s “renaming committee,” which was charged with researching historical figures and suggesting which should be removed from places of honor, gathered their information through “casual Google searches” and from Wikipedia, resulting in a document “rife with historical errors.”
Revere was targeted because a naming committee member mistakenly connected the “Penobscot Expedition” against the British in 1779 to “the conquest of the Penobscot Indians.” Poet James Russell Lowell was assailed because he, allegedly, “did not want Black people to vote,” despite “unequivocally” advocating for “giving the ballot to the recently freed slaves.” Businessman and philanthropist James Lick was given the boot over a statue he supposedly funded, “depicting a prostrate Indian at the feet of white men.” The statue was commissioned two decades after his death.
When asked about the shoddy research last week, Lopez shot back at critics of the process, accusing those questioning the committee’s research methods of “undermining” the district’s efforts at “anti-racism.”
In a shocking reversal of position, Lopez addressed the historical errors in her statement, taking “responsibility for mistakes made in the building renaming process” and pledging to welcome community input — and to engage “historians at nearby universities” — before attempting any further changes, and make the process “deliberative.”
The abrupt change of heart on the renaming process was likely the result of a recall petition, launched last week, aimed at Lopez and at least two other school board members. The two parents who launched the petition, which will require 70,000 signatures, told the San Francisco Chronicle that they aim to “get politics out of education” and pledged to use their connections in the tech sector to ensure the petition is successful.