SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Concerned citizens submitted 12 petitions to change the name of the Dixie School District in Marin County. The district Board of Trustees now has 40 days to vote “yes” or “no” on the proposals.
California state law requires a governing school board to consider any proposal for a name change put forth by fifteen voters in a school district. (California Education Code 35001.)
On Wednesday night, the Board of Trustees will discuss the process of considering the petitions and will hear a presentation on the potential costs to change the district’s name on signs and other materials. The Superintendent estimates the cost at $18,283.
The proposal for a name change cannot just be a demand for a new name; the law requires that an actual new name must be proposed. Names like Terra Linda, Skywalker and Miller Creek were among the proposals submitted to the board.
“Dixie is a synonym of the confederacy. It is a reminder of slavery, lynchings and segregation,” said Marnie Glickman, a trustee on the Dixie board.
“It’s time to lose the lost cause and these amazing parents and community members have been working for 22 years to do this.”
The first major push to change the district’s name was in 1997. Another petition, which would have changed the name to Miller Creek Elementary School District, was voted down by the Board of Trustees in 2003.
The issue came up again in 2015, when South Carolina removed the confederate flag from its state house. Bruce Anderson moved to the district in 1989 and says community members have been trying to get the board to change the name, to no avail. That is why they have turned to the petitions to force a vote.
“What we want to accomplish today is get that 40 day process started,” he said. Anderson, who is African American, says the word Dixie is, “a microaggresion that says to African American people, ‘You don’t count.’”
How the district came to be named Dixie is unsettled. The Dixie School District was created in 1863 and Dixie Elementary School was built in 1864.
Anderson says the name was a poke in the eye to Union-friendly Marin County by the workers who built the first school. “They were Southern Irish working there during the Civil War.” He says James Miller, a Missourian, purchased the land and gave the district its name on a dare by one of the workers.
Another theory was explained by District Trustee Brad Hosenberger to the Marin Independent Journal in 2015.
“My understanding is that our district is named after Mary Dixie, a descendant of the Miwok Indian tribe, and she used to live in Vallecito, California. There is no relation to the Confederate flag,” he said.
There’s a third theory that the school was named Dixie after the daughter of Don Timoteo Murphy because he granted the land where the school was built.
Glickman says it doesn’t matter how the district came to be named Dixie.
“This name, regardless of the origin, has negative impact on our students and our families. We’ve heard for 22 years from African Americans in our community that this name hurts them,” said Glickman.
Over the years, the debate has raged on in the opinion pages and letters to the editors of local papers. Supporters of keeping the name Dixie School District argue that the song “Dixie” was written by a northerner and Abraham Lincoln explicitly reclaimed it after the Civil War saying “we fairly captured it” back from the South in 1865.
They also argue that Dixie is a regional term, like “the South” and “Bay Area” and that the word is commonly used without injury as a woman’s name and in titles like Dixie Cups, Winn-Dixie grocery stores and Dixieland Jazz.
Opponents argue that Dixie School District it is out of place in progressive Marin because the word is inextricably tied to the song “Dixie,” an anthem of the confederate South.
Karen Crockett was the only trustee to vote in favor of changing the name in 2003. In 2015, she argued that the Confederate flag was inoffensive to some people but offensive to others, so it was right to be removed from the South Carolina state house.
Similarly, the name Dixie may be fine for some people, but Crockett said, “If the name, however, offends some people, it should be changed.”
The Dixie School District is made up of four schools: Dixie Elementary, Mary E. Silveria Elementary, Vallecito Elementary and Miller Creek Middle School. According to the district, there are 1,974 students in total. California Department of Education data shows there are 36 African American students in the district.
Students at the district’s schools have high test scores and the district rates very well on websites like www.greatschools.org. This adds value to local real estate and prestige for graduates.
“The Dixie School district has a reputation of being one of the best school districts in the area. Everybody wants their kids to go there,” said community member Zip Showket. “It’s a fantastic place, our kids had a great experience there. I see no reason to change it.“