San Francisco school board votes to rename schools honoring Washington, Lincoln, Feinstein, others

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Not even revered former presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson are safe from “cancel culture,” it appears.

The American icons were among a list of historical figures whose names will be removed from San Francisco’s public schools following a 6-1 vote by the school board Tuesday, according to multiple reports.

Washington and Jefferson were both slave owners and Lincoln, who ended slavery, became controversial because critics claim he oppressed indigenous people. 

The presidents were among a long list of men and women whose namesake schools will soon be renamed. Others on the list include Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem, former presidents William McKinley, James Garfield, James Monroe, and Herbert Hoover, Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere and author Robert Louis Stevenson, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Even an elementary school named for current U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will be changed over allegations that she replaced a damaged Confederate flag outside of City Hall when she was the city’s mayor in 1986, according to Courthouse News. She didn’t replace the flag after it was pulled down a second time.

Historical figures have come under a sharp focus since anti-racism protests swept the country last summer, with some protesters ripping down statues of figures like Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and others they deemed offensive.

Mayor London Breed rebuked the plan in October as “offensive,” saying the school board should be focused on reopening schools closed during the pandemic rather than renaming them.

(Abraham Lincoln High School, among 44 schools targeted for renaming, is seen in San Francisco. (Google))

“It’s offensive to parents who are juggling their children’s daily at-home learning schedules with doing their own jobs and maintaining their sanity,” she said at the time, according to Courthouse News. “It’s offensive to me as someone who went to our public schools, who loves our public schools, and who knows how those years in the classroom are what lifted me out of poverty and into college. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends.”

Replacing signage at the 44 schools will cost more than $400,000, according to the Courthouse News. The price tag could also go up to around $1 million for schools to get new activity uniforms, repaint gymnasium floors, etc., according to the Chronicle. The district is facing a budget deficit.

While the board focused on renaming the schools in the Tuesday meeting, it did not discuss reopening schools from coronavirus shutdowns.

Other critics complained the panel that reviewed the appropriateness of school names used little input from historians and didn’t put the figures into a historical context or weigh their contributions with their failings.

Others argued the research process was thin, relying on selective sources and using websites like Wikipedia to back up claims.

In the case of Roosevelt Middle School, it wasn’t clear if the board knew which former President Roosevelt it was named for, but decided to have it removed anyway.

Board member Mark Sanchez, however, called the decision a “moral message.”

“It’s a message to our families, our students and our community. It’s not just symbolic,” he said, according to the Chronicle.

Board member Kevine Boggess, who supported the resolution, suggested schools shouldn’t be named after anyone.

We “should not make heroes out of mortal folks,” he said, according to the Chronicle. “I think we need to examine our naming policies across the district and really consider how the way we go about naming schools reflects our true values.”

School staff and families have until April to suggest new names for the schools.


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