The renaming of Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco is on hold after public outcry over a school board plan to rename 44 public schools brought unwelcome attention, including local opposition from parents and negative international headlines.
In an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, school board president Gabriela López said the debate has been “distracting” in light of the pressing need to reopen schools.
“We recognize we need to slow down,” she said in the statement, published Sunday. “And we need to provide more opportunities for community input.”
López praised the anti-racist work of the volunteer committee but also said “mistakes were made” in the process. She said the board would instead focus on reopening, a demand voiced in some of the criticisms of the school board’s actions. Her statement did not address decisions or rationales behind specific school name changes.
In a 6-1 vote last month, the school board — including López — voted to approve the recommendations of a volunteer committee that examined the names of all 100-plus public schools in the city to see if any were named for those who “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.”
The list of recommended names to strip included George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, as well as Feinstein and one other Jewish name, Adolph Sutro.
Sutro’s place on the list was connected to an incident in 1897, when a Black man named John Harris was denied entry to the Sutro Baths because of his race. Harris sued Sutro and won. Dianne Feinstein Elementary was set to be renamed primarily because of a 1984 incident when then-Mayor Feinstein defended the flying of a Confederate battle flag as part of a historical display outside City Hall. After protesters tore the flag down, Feinstein replaced it before ultimately deciding to remove it under pressure.
In spite of the board’s decision to pause the renaming process, two San Francisco parents have filed to begin an official recall process to remove López and board members Alison Collins and SFUSD Commissioner Faauuga Moliga from the school board. If they are able to collect 70,000 signatures per board member within 160 days, a recall vote for the three could be scheduled for November.