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San Francisco May Rename Schools Named After Washington, Lincoln And Others

The San Francisco school board has voted to consider removing the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from public schools, such as Abraham Lincoln High School.
The San Francisco school board has voted to consider removing the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from public schools, such as Abraham Lincoln High School.

San Francisco is pushing ahead with a plan to rename dozens of public schools, committing to potentially remove names of public figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

A "blue ribbon panel of community leaders" recommended 44 school names be changed, joining many other renamed institutions across the country, as the U.S. reckons with its history of racial injustice. But the move has also sparked debate in San Francisco about its timing and whether the list is overly broad.

The San Francisco Board of Education passed the resolution on Tuesday in a 6-1 vote, prompting mixed reaction from parents and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. The resolution requires that the public submit alternative names by April 19, after which the panel will make its recommendations to the school board.

"This is an important conversation to have, and one that we [sic] should involve our communities, our families, and our students," Breed said in a statement Wednesday. "What I cannot understand is why the School Board is advancing a plan to have all these schools renamed by April, when there isn't a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then. 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."

The text of the resolution says the board will "review and sanction the panel's list of school names for potential renaming." In a statement, the board said it views the resolution as a "commitment to replace the names."

School board president Gabriela López called it "an opportunity for our students to learn about the history of our school's [sic] names, including the potential new ones."

"This resolution came to the school board in the wake of the attacks in Charlottesville, and we are working alongside the rest of the country to dismantle symbols of racism and white supremacy culture," she added in a statement.

The school board passed a resolution in May 2018 to change names if the person "engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Among schools the panel recommended be renamed are those named for former President Herbert Hoover, naturalist John Muir, Revolutionary War figure Paul Revere and author Robert Louis Stevenson. Former President James Monroe is also on the list, who is known to have held enslaved people, as did Washington and Jefferson.

Lincoln, known for his legacy of emancipation, is included "because of the Civil War president's treatment of American Indians, which included a mass hanging after an uprising," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Feinstein, the longtime Democratic senator, is included "because as mayor in 1984 she replaced a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a long-standing flag display in front of City Hall," The Associated Press reported. "When the flag was pulled down a second time, she did not replace it."

Schools whose names are slated to be changed are encouraged to propose alternatives to the committee. Other community members can put forward suggestions, too. The Board of Education will make final decisions about the new names.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.