SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The battle over renaming schools honoring slave owners and other figures is getting attention in a different way.
Even before the latest “Black Lives Matter” protests across the country, San Francisco Unified Schools officials implemented steps to take a closer look at controversial school names.
That movement has an even brighter spotlight after the toppling of statues in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park Friday night. It has energized a new push to rename some schools.
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“It’s like a perfect storm, “said SFUSD Board President Mark Sanchez. “I think we’re hitting a situation where we could be accelerating the look at renaming our schools and I think that’s a positive thing.”
“Going after something like that is not only outrageous but completely ignorant,” said San Francisco activist and former mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg.
Francis Scott Key Elementary, named after the poet who wrote the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner, but also known as a slave owner, is one school that could end up getting a name change as well as Junipero Serra Elementary.
“Schools that were named after slave owners or in Serra’s case, which led to the demise of many many thousands of Native Americans who were virtually enslaved as well (have to be looked at),” said Sanchez.
“This is part of American history, history of North America, and the Spanish introduction of the language,” said Greenberg. We’re not talking about a Holocaust type of leader like Adolf Hitler.”
Catholic Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone also voiced outrage on Sunday over the toppling of Serra’s statue in Golden Gate Park.
“St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “All of this is not to deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed.”
Sanchez established a committee two years ago that is re-evaluating the names of all city schools. But the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted the process. Now, the school board is looking to restart it before August.
“It’s a similar situation like bringing down the statues,” said Greenberg. “It does not erase history, it does not change history, and it does not atone for anything that these individuals think it does.”
“The renaming process can go fast but it also needs to be a process that is engaging of the communities,” said Sanchez.
“We all need to know what’s going on and the curriculum in school needs to ensure that students know our history and where it comes from,” said Greenberg.
Washington High School is on the list of schools that could be renamed, as is John Muir Elementary, which could be renamed for the poet and San Francisco native Maya Angelou.
Sanchez says a formal resolution could be filed at a board meeting in July.