SFUSD considers renaming schools named after historical figures

San+Francisco%E2%80%99s+Lincoln+High+School+is+one+of+dozens+of+schools+the+SFUSD+is+considering+changing+the+name+of+because+of+the+namesake%E2%80%99s+questionable+treatment+of+people+of+color.

Brandon Tam ’23

San Francisco’s Lincoln High School is one of dozens of schools the SFUSD is considering changing the name of because of the namesake’s questionable treatment of people of color.

Jordan Tyler Maralit , Editor in Chief

From tearing down statues of controversial and historical figures, some San Francisco public schools expressed the possibility of changing their names. The San Francisco Unified School District is moving toward renaming some schools in the city amid a moment of national reckoning on race and history.

In June, the Berkeley Unified School District decided to move forward in renaming elementary schools that commemorate the memory of the first and third presidents of the United States, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. An elementary school named after Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, is also on the list.

Junipero Serra School, named after an 18th century Franciscan friar who served as an architect of the California Mission system through the era of the Spanish colonization, is another school that is seriously considering changing its name.

John Muir Elementary is also on the list of schools that could be renamed for author and poet Maya Angelou, who spent some time in San Francisco as the city’s first female cable car conductor.

Alvarado Elementary School, named after the Alta Californian governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, is changing its name. Sheera Sadja, principal of Alvarado Elementary School, said via announcement post, “From everything that I am hearing, the name change is happening whether you like it or not. The best we can hope for is an extension of the timeline, but since we already have solicited names from the students, I am not sure we need that.”

Sadja also announced that they will do a survey for students and parents to see which name works best in the future. She included Alvarado in the survey, with a couple of other names as well.

I think it’s a good thing schools are changing their names, especially if they were named after figures who indulged in racist practices. I don’t believe schools should change their names to rebrand themselves in hopes to cover up past incidents. It’s also important that schools practice and express the values of equality and justice for all, and not simply change their name and think it is enough.”

— Na'im Pierce ’21

SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick has identified two more schools that are possible for renaming, Balboa High and Commodore Sloat Elementary. Commodore Sloat, which was named after Commodore John Sloat, was a colonizer who “claimed/stole California” from Mexico. Balboa, also named after a colonizer named Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who was a Spanish Conquistador traveling to the “New World,” and became the first European to lead an expedition that had reached the Pacific.

History teacher Jeff Isola ’98 said, “Historically, African-Americans’ voices aren’t heard through the system. It brings awareness to the issue of police brutality. George Floyd’s death was prominent. No matter what side you are on, there is no good reason to sit on his neck for 8 minutes.”

Isola spoke on the issue of cancel culture, saying, “The message that it is sending is preaching tolerance while being intolerant of things we don’t like. Not that I am defending these historical figures on what they are as human beings, but they are also important figures in American History.”

BSU Student leader Na’im Pierce ’21 said, “I think it’s a good thing schools are changing their names, especially if they were named after figures who indulged in racist practices. I don’t believe schools should change their names to rebrand themselves in hopes to cover up past incidents. It’s also important that schools practice and express the values of equality and justice for all, and not simply change their name and think it is enough.”

Pierce added, “The message the schools are sending is a strong one. I think by making these changes, it shows the minority students that the school supports them, values them, and does not tolerate discrimination or racism. I feel schools often are named after historical or impactful figures, so it means the schools understand the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement and value Black lives.”

Mayor London Breed blasted the idea instead of focusing on opening the schools during the pandemic. She said, in a statement, “The fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city, not the name of a school.”

Breed added, “In the midst of this once in a century challenge, to hear that the district is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools that they haven’t even opened is offensive. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends.”

According to the district officials, the advisory committee is set to make recommendations to the board this year, beginning with the proposals to change the name, and then the board can possibly vote on any changes.