San Francisco Unified School District building (source: wikiwand.org)

Associated Press |

The San Francisco school board is poised to reverse a much-criticized decision to purge 44 schools of names it said were linked to racism, sexism or other injustices, a turnaround aimed at avoiding costly litigation and toning down outrage at what critics denounced as ill-timed activism.

Just over two months ago, the city’s elected Board of Education voted to strip schools of the names of historic figures including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Robert Louis Stevenson. A school named for longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on the list as well. 

Community resistance to the proposed changes

Parents, students and elected officials blasted the board for some of its targets — and its timing. The decision in late January came while all of San Francisco’s public classrooms were closed because of coronavirus restrictions. They still are. Mayor London Breed, among others, called it “offensive and completely unacceptable” for the board to focus on changing school names rather than getting children back into classrooms. 

Some of the city’s youngest students are expected to begin returning to in-person instruction this month after more than a year of distance learning because of the pandemic. There is no timetable for middle and high school students to return.

The renaming effort also was criticized for shoddy research and historical inaccuracies. A renaming advisory committee wrongly accused Paul Revere of seeking to colonize the Penobscot people. It also confused the name of Alamo Elementary School with the Texas battle rather than the Spanish word for “poplar tree.” 

Feinstein Elementary made the list because when she was mayor in 1984, she initially replaced a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a longstanding display outside City Hall. 

Acknowledging mistakes were made

Amid the outcry, board president Gabriela Lopez said in February that the process would be paused until all children were back in school. Lopez acknowledged in a statement that mistakes were made in the selection of schools and said that when the board returns to the issue, it will engage historians for a “more deliberative process.” 

The board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution to rescind its January decision and revisit the matter after all students have returned full time to in-person learning. 

Lawsuits filed to stop renaming efforts

Since the renaming vote, the board has faced multiple lawsuits, including one from City Hall and the mayor to pressure the school district and board to reopen classrooms more quickly. Another was filed in March by San Francisco attorney Paul Scott, whose children attend public schools, alleging the school board’s renaming decision violated California’s open meeting law and did not involve the community.

Superior Court Judge orders vote rescinded, renaming committee dissolved 

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman issued a ruling calling on the board to do what the lawsuit requests — rescind the vote and dissolve the renaming advisory committee — or show by April 16 why it shouldn’t be compelled to do so.

The resolution being considered Tuesday does not address the criticism but denounces the lawsuit, saying it “wishes to avoid the distraction and wasteful expenditure of public funds in frivolous litigation.”

Other controversies 

In other recent controversies, the school board has been widely criticized for a plan to end merit-based admissions to San Francisco’s top public high school, Lowell, and use the same lottery-based system that admits students to other high schools.

Tuesday’s meeting also will be the first since the board voted last week to remove one of its members, Alison Collins, from her role as vice president and other titles over her tweets about Asian Americans dating to 2016. 

In the tweets, Collins said Asian Americans use “white supremacist” thinking to get ahead. She has resisted calls to step down and last week sued the school district and five of her six colleagues, accusing them of violating her free speech rights. She is seeking $87 million in damages.