San Francisco votes to remove Washington, Lincoln from school names

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FILE – In this March 12, 2020, file photo, Abraham Lincoln High School stands in San Francisco. The San Francisco school board has voted to remove the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from public schools after officials deemed them and other prominent figures, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein unworthy of the honor. After months of controversy, the board voted 6-1 Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in favor of renaming 44 San Francisco school sites with new names with no connection to slavery, oppression, racism or similar criteria, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco school board has voted to remove the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from public schools after officials deemed them and other prominent figures, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, unworthy of the honor.

After months of controversy, the board voted 6-1 Tuesday in favor of renaming 44 San Francisco school sites with new names with no connection to slavery, oppression, racism or similar criteria, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Feinstein’s name was added to the list because as mayor she replaced a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a long-standing flag display in front of City Hall.

Critics called the process slapdash, with little to no input from historians and a lack of information on the basis for each recommendation. In one instance, the committee didn’t know whether Roosevelt Middle School was named after Theodore or Franklin Delano.

“I must admit there are reasons to support this resolution, but I can’t,” said community member Jean Barish, who said the process has been flawed and based on emotion rather than expertise. “These are not decisions that should be made in haste.”

Mayor London Breed also issued a statement, condemning the board for focusing on the renaming issue instead of the ongoing coronavirus.

“…why [is] the School Board 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,” Breed said “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. Our families are frustrated about a lack of a plan, and they are especially frustrated with the fact that the discussion of these plans weren’t even on the agenda for last night’s School Board meeting.”

School board members have insisted that the renaming is timely and important, given the country’s reckoning with a racist past. They have argued the district is capable of pursuing multiple priorities at the same time, responding to critics who say more pressing issues deserve attention.

In some schools, families argued for a name change for years, including those at James Denman Middle School, named after the first superintendent, a racist leader who denied Chinese students a public education. Others argued that current names mean students are wearing school sweatshirts with the names of slave owners, including Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

“It’s a message to our families, our students and our community,” said board member Mark Sanchez. “It’s not just symbolic. It’s a moral message.”

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