San Francisco school board president Gabriela López issued a statement Sunday
The San Francisco school board has said it is putting the renaming of 44 schools on hold after coming under fire for prioritizing the issue over reopenings and using Wikipedia as a reference point to determine which names were racist.
In a statement president Gabriela López acknowledged discussions on re-branding the institutions named after figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington had been ‘distracting’ and ‘mistakes have been made’.
The board first came under fire last month when it emerged committee members allegedly used references from Wikipedia and other non-scholarly sources to determine which personalities were racist and problematic.
López, 30, said Sunday: ‘We’re canceling renaming committee meetings for the time being. We will be revising our plans to run a more deliberative process moving forward, which includes engaging historians at nearby universities to help.’
Parents and residents had become concerned when it emerged that historians had not been consulted by the renaming committee.
Instead, several citations used in the debate have now been proven to be factually incorrect, including a false claim that American poet James Russell Lowell did not want black people to vote and that Paul Revere’s military activities were tied to ‘the conquest of the Penobscot Indians’.
López, who has been in the job just six weeks, added Sunday: ‘We recognize we need to slow down. And we need to provide more opportunities for community input.’
She said reopening amid forced closures as a result of the coronavirus ‘will be the only focus’ until children are back in schools.
‘We will not be taking valuable time from our board agendas to further discuss this, as we need to prioritize reopening,’ Lopez added.
The Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco; Lopez acknowledged discussions on re-branding the institutions named after historical figures had been ‘distracting’ and ‘mistakes have been made’
Roosevelt Middle School in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco; The school board came under fire last month when it emerged committee members allegedly used references from non-scholarly sources to make decisions
Dianne Feinstein Elementary; ‘We’re canceling renaming committee meetings for the time being,’ Lopez said She said reopening schools amid COVID-19 ‘will be the only focus’
George Washington High School; Parents and residents had become concerned when it emerged that historians had not been consulted by the renaming committee
Lopez had defended the earlier work of the committee in an interview with The New Yorker telling the magazine she did not want to ‘discredit the work that this group has done’ despite their use of inaccurate information.
She claimed that she did not believe the names had been selected in a haphazard way, even after being read a list of the misinformation that was used in some of the decisions.
‘No, because I’ve already shared with you that the people who have contributed to this process are also part of a community that is taking it as seriously as we would want them to,’ Lopez argued about the errors made in the research process.
ERRORS MADE BY THE SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL RENAMING COMMITTEE:
Committee members allegedly used references from Wikipedia and other non-scholarly sources to determine which personalities were racist and problematic.
Several of those citations has now been proven to be factually incorrect:
1. One committee member urged that the name of acclaimed American poet James Russell Lowell should be stripped off a high school because a Wikipedia citation stated that he did ‘not want black people to vote’.
However, that claim is false – and scholarly articles assert that Lowell ‘unequivocally advocated giving the ballot to the recently freed slave’.
2. The committee concluded that Paul Revere’s name should be removed from a middle school after citing an article from the History Channel website.
Members alleged that Revere’s military activities were tied to ‘the conquest of the Penobscot Indians’, which was untrue.
3. James Lick – who resided in San Francisco – was also deemed ‘racist’ after members failed to critically read an article about the famous 19th century businessman.
The committee stated that Lick had funded a sculpture showing an American Indian lying at the feet of white men.
However, in actuality, Lick died 18 years before the sculpture was created, and it was only partially funded by his posthumous estate.
She had also pushed back on the complaints that historians were not consulted as part of the process.
‘Are you thinking then there’s no allowing for there to be that process?’ she asked, when questioned about the renaming committee’s comments on not needing a historian.
‘I think that that’s not the process that they created. They included a diverse set of community members, people with a set of experiences that contribute to these discussions, people from different backgrounds who are also educated in their own rights.
‘So, I think that was the makeup of the committee.’
But by Sunday Lopez had acknowledged the need for professional help in the process, writing: ‘We are working with educators at all levels to involve and educate our school communities about the renaming process. We are realizing, especially now, it will take time and energy to get that right.’
Among the other criticism received by the city’s board of education was that it had voted on the renaming when there appeared to be no plan in place to bring students back to in-person learning.
‘What I cannot understand is why the school board is advancing a plan of all these schools renamed by April when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,’ San Francisco Mayor London Breed had said.
On that, Lopez said Sunday: ‘We’re in negotiations to get the work on returning to in-person learning done and I’m committed to working with city partners to get vaccinations, testing and other resources we need.’
Among the names included on the list that had provoked pushback from residents and historians was President Abraham Lincoln.
Lopez had said that she did not believe Lincoln was a person she would ‘admire or see as a hero’. ‘I think that the killing of indigenous peoples and that record is something that is not acknowledged,’ she said.
‘It’s something that people are now learning about, and due to this process. And so, we just have to do the work of that extra learning when we’re having these discussions.’
Lopez also had claimed that the renaming was only facing criticism because ‘people will always have a problem with the discussion of racism’, not because of the inaccurate information.
‘That is what I know. That is why I’m getting death threats. That is why people aren’t open to other possibilities. Because when we have this discussion, that’s the outcomes no matter how good it’s set up, no matter how open we are,’ she said.
‘No matter what, people are going to have an issue with that. That is what I know, given my experience. Of course, I’m hearing what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s going to change the outcome. People are still going to be up in arms when we’re doing this.’
She said Sunday: ‘We are deeply grateful for the work of the renaming committee and many schools are as well. They are excited about the opportunity to uplift communities that have previously been underrepresented.
‘Our students need to attend schools where they feel valued and seen. This work is anti-racist and we’re proud of that.’
Lopez was the youngest woman ever elected to office in San Francisco, aged 28, and the youngest school board member elected to the San Francisco Board of Education when she was sworn into office in January of 2019.
She is also a core organizer in the group Teachers 4 Social Justice, which was founded by Jeremiah Jeffries, the man appointed as the chairman of the renaming committee.
Lopez said reopening amid forced closures as a result of the coronavirus ‘will be the only focus’ until children are back in schools. ‘We will not be taking valuable time from our board agendas to further discuss this, as we need to prioritize reopening,’ Lopez added
Among the other criticism received by the city’s board of education was that it had voted on the renaming when there appeared to be no plan in place to bring students back to in-person learning
Jeffries, whose parents are prominent members of the Nation of Islam and set up their own Islamic school, previously led San Francisco’s largest school boycott when he encouraged 200 families to send their children to protest the closure of a school, rather than to lessons in 2006.
In 1999, Jeffries also hit headlines nationwide when he held a protest against teachers spending their own money on school supplies.
School Board Commissioner Mark Sanchez, another founder of Teachers 4 Change and Teachers 4 Social Justice, was also on the renaming committee.
The San Francisco Board of Education voted 6-1 last month to rename a third of the city’s schools, nearly three years after the board started considering the idea.
The resolution had called for removing names that honored historical figures with direct or broad ties to slavery, oppression, racism, or the ‘subjugation’ of human beings.
They include the nation’s first president, George Washington, the third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson and the man credited with abolishing slavery, Abraham Lincoln, the 13th president of the United States.
Thomas Edison was set to be scratched off Thomas Edison Charter Academy due to his ‘fondness for electrocuting animals’.
George Washington’s name was going to be removed from the high school named after him. The father of the nation owned slaves and ordered Indians killed.
Herbert Hoover Middle School was to be renamed over the namesake’s role in redlining – the segregation of black families – when he was secretary of commerce.
And Roosevelt Middle School faced a rebranding over President Theodore Roosevelt’s opposition of civil rights and black suffrage for black people.
Modern figures had not been spared from the cut either.
Dianne Feinstein, who was Mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988 and has since served as a Democrat California Senator since 1992, was set to have her name removed from Dianne Feinstein Elementary because she ‘allowed police dogs to attack Filipino veteran elders’, the committee ruled.
Jeffries said Feinstein has never made amends for these failings.
George Washington’s name was set to be removed from the high school named after him. The father of the nation owned slaves and ordered Indians killed. San Francisco Unified School District had been criticized for voting by 6-1 last month to change the name of one-third of the city’s schools including those named after President Lincoln
Roosevelt Middle School could also be rebranding over President Theodore Roosevelt’s (left) opposition of civil rights and black suffrage for black people. Senator Diane Feinstein, right, allowed the Confederate flag to fly in front of San Francisco City Hall in the 1980s
Jeremiah Jeffries, the man in charge of school renaming, whose Nation of Islam parents inspired him
The man behind the renaming of 44 of San Francisco’s schools is a first grade teacher who was influenced by his parents – both prominent members of the Nation of Islam – who set up their own Islamic school.
Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the renaming committee, revealed in an interview his mother told him ‘There’s nothing mysterious about progression. It’s working instead of wishing.’
She and her husband set up the Sister Clara Muhammad School that serve a predominately African-American Muslim population.
The Nation of Islam, which is defined as an organized hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay teachings and rhetoric of black superiority over whites.
Jeffries also led San Francisco’s largest school boycott when he encouraged 200 families to send their children to protest the closure of a school, rather then to lessons in 2006.
In 1999, Jeffries hit headlines nationwide when he held a protest against teachers spending their own money on school supplies.
The San Francisco School District increased the school supply budget for the first time in decades as a result.
He has also carved out a reputation as a power-broker for the district’s Board of Education, using his influence to get at least four candidates – teaching professionals – appointed.
Jeffries grew up in Philadelphia as one of seven children.
At the age of 12, after his sister was shot dead, Jeffries had his first taste of working in education as a janitor at a childcare center.
He later went to the University of Virginia, where he first got involved in racial justice activism with the Black Student Alliance including getting the first black woman into student office.
When he moved to San Francisco he cofounded Teachers 4 Change and, later, Teachers 4 Social Justice activism groups alongside Mark Sanchez – who is also on the renaming committee.
Teachers 4 Social Justice was set up to ‘help teachers build their practice and become better teachers’, holding annual conferences and social justice workshops each year and pushing for education policy reforms.
Currently, he is overseeing the name change for 44 of the district’s schools after the renaming committee ruled the namesakes are inappropriate or racist.
Activist and teacher Jeffries is said to have ‘ridiculed’ a proposal to bring in historians for consultation.
Jeffries reportedly stated: ‘What would be the point? History is written and documented pretty well across the board. And so, we don’t need to belabor history in that regard. We’re not debating that. There’s no point in debating history in that regard. Either it happened or it didn’t.’
He added: ‘Based on our criteria, it’s a very straightforward conversation. And so, no need to bring historians forward to say – they either pontificate and list a bunch of reasons why, or [say] they had great qualities. Neither are necessary in this discussion.’
The committee had concluded that Paul Revere’s name should be removed from a middle school after citing an article from the History Channel website.
Members alleged that Revere’s military activities were tied to ‘the conquest of the Penobscot Indians’, which was untrue.
In another example cited by Mission Local, James Lick – who resided in San Francisco – was also deemed ‘racist’ after members failed to critically read an article about the famous 19th century businessman.
The committee stated that Lick had funded a sculpture showing an American Indian lying at the feet of white men. However, in actuality, Lick died 18 years before the sculpture was created, and it was only partially funded by his posthumous estate.
Last month, several of the nation’s leading historians blasted the renaming committee in a Mission Local article titled: ‘The San Francisco School District’s renaming debacle has been a historic travesty.’
The scholars assert that Jeffries appeared eager to ignore nuance and academic debate in favor of pursuing his own ‘political agenda’.
‘The decision not to include historians in the process seems misguided — and assumes a political agenda that is not necessarily fair,’ Professor Nicole Maurantonio at the University of Richmond told Mission Local.
‘To ignore historians suggests that the actors involved are intent on privileging a version of the past that might fit a particular set of interests that might or might not align with history,’ she added.
The decision to rename had also received push back from residents with more than 24,000 signing a petition to have it stopped.
A group called Families for San Francisco had also opposed the vote calling it a ‘top-down process’ in which a small group of people made the decision without consulting experts and the wider school community.
‘We think it is very important for the community at large to be engaged to figure out who should be honored with public school names,’ said Seeyew Mo, the group’s executive director.
‘We would like to have historical experts to provide historical context as we are evaluating people from the past with today´s sensibilities,’ he said.
It is estimated that the cost of renaming each school will be $100,000, with schools needing to replace signs, school gear and other branding if their names are forced to change.
In total, the committee is hoping to rename almost a third of the district’s 125 schools.
The renaming of the schools comes as part of a nationwide reckoning around racial justice that has seen Confederate flags banned, military bases renamed and statues toppled of racist and Confederate figures across America in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd
SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL BOARD VOTES TO RENAME 44 SCHOOLS OVER ‘DISHONOROABLE LEGACIES’ OF NAMESAKES:
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: U.S. president targeted for his treatment of indigneous people, Abraham Lincoln High School.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: The first U.S. president and a slave owner, George Washington High School.
VASCO NUNEZ DE BALBOA: A Spanish explorer targeted by the board over colonization and abuses of indigenous people, Balboa High School.
MISSION DOLORES: The 7th mission founded by Spanish settlers in their quest to colonize and evangelize the native peoples of California, Mission High School.
JAMES R. LOWELL: While initially involved in the movement to abolish slavery, the poet’s support wavered over the years, Lowell High School.
JAMES DENMAN: Founder of first S.F. school and first superintendent, a racist leader who denied Chinese students a public education, James Denman Middle School.
EDWARD EVERETT: An American statesman who a speech in 1826 in which he appeared to endorse slavery, despite his arguments that he rejected the slave trade and the act of kidnapping someone into slavery, Everett Middle School.
HERBERT HOOVER: U.S. president: African-American leaders condemned various aspects of the Hoover administration, including his unwillingness to push for a federal anti-lynching law, Herbert Hoover Middle School.
JAMES LICK: A land baron whose estate funded the controversial ‘Early Days’ statue depicting Native Americans in a demeaning manner, James Lick Middle School.
PRESIDIO: S.F. military post estalished in 1776 as Spain’s northern-most outpost of colonial power, Presidio Middle School.
THEODORE OR F.D. ROSSEVELT: Both U.S. Presidents. Teddy Roosevelt held Racist attitudes toward Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos during the Spanish-American War; F.D received heavy criticism for his internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, Roosevelt Middle School.
HENRY WARE LAWTON: An officer in the U.S. Civil War, Lawton K-8
CLAIRE LILIENTHAL: A S.F. school board member, two school sites
PAUL REVERE: A Patriot in the American Revolution, Paul Revere K-8
ALAMO: A poplar tree or the site of Texas Revolution battle, Alamo Elementary
PEDRO DE ALVARADO: A conquistador, Alvarado Elementary,
EDWIN BRYANT: The author penned editorials supporting the anti-Catholic nativism movement and a series of racist attacks on Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson for his black common law wife and two mixed race daughters, Bryan Elementary
EDWARD HYDE: The English politician and Earl of Clarendon, Clarendon Elementary Second Community and Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program
EL DORADO: Mythical City of Gold, El Dorado Elementary
DIANNE FEINSTEIN: The US Senator replaced a Condererate Flag at City Hall while the Mayor of San Francisco in 1984, Dianne Feinstein Elementary
JAMES GARFIELD: US President, Garfield Elementary
WILLIAM HENRY GRATTAN : An Irish author regarded as controversial due to the inaccuracy of some of his work, Grattan Elementary
THOMAS JEFFERSON: U.S. president and a slave owner, Jefferson Elementary
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY: Composer of ‘Star Spangled Banner’, Francis Scott Key Elementary
FRANK MCCOPPIN: San Francisco Mayor, Frank McCoppin Elementary
WILLIAM MCKINLEY: US President, McKinley’s expansionist policies are now widely viewed as racist toward indigenous people, McKinley Elementary
JAMES WILSON MARSHALL: Sawmill worker at Sutter’s Mill, who reported the finding of gold at Coloma on the American River in California on January 24, 1848, sparking the California Gold Rush, Marshall Elementary
JAMES MONROE: US President and slave owner, Monroe Elementary
JOHN MUIR: The naturalist made comments that invoked racist stereotypes made toward black people, John Muir Elementary
JOSE ORTEGA: A Spanish colonizer, Jose Ortega Elementary
JOSE BERNARDO SANCHEZ: A Spanish missionary, Sanchez Elementary
JUNIPERO SERRA: Elementary, Spanish priest to be renamed due to colonization and abuses of indigenous people Serra Elementary
GEN. PHILIP SHERIDAN: A Union General in the American Civil War, Sheridan Elementary
GEN. WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN: According to some reports, Sherman did not believe in equality between white and black people despite being a genera in the Northern Army during the Civil War, Sherman Elementary
JOHN SLOAT: Navy officer and a colonizer who ‘claimed/stole’ California from Mexico, Commodore Sloat Elementary
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON: Author, Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary
ADOLPH SUTRO: S.F. mayor accused of discriminating against black people in the 19th century who wanted to visit the baths named after him, Sutro Elementary
DON ANTONIO DE ULLOA: Spanish General and the the first Spanish governor of Louisiana, Ulloa Elementary
DANIEL WEBSTER: U.S. Statesman who urged northerners to respect slavery in the South and to assist in the return of fugitive slaves to their owners, Daniel Webster Elementary
NORIEGA: Unclear, Noriega Early Education School
PRESIDIO: San Francisco Military Post formerly established by the Spanish, Presidio EES
ROBERT F STOCKTON: Navy Commodore who captured California during the Mexican–American War, Stockton EES