Why San Francisco school board voted to reverse its controversial renaming decision

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The San Francisco school board voted to halt its school renaming efforts on Tuesday night after mounting pressure from a high-profile lawsuit and the community.

The board had approved a resolution in January to push ahead with renaming 44 schools that members said were tied to racist figures or other injustices by the end of 2021. The conversation around renaming started back in 2018.

Meanwhile- parents, students and teachers were riling around the back-to-classroom debate and wanted school officials to focus on that.

A committee made up of parents even explored the idea of recalling school board members over the inaction.

“Like so many parents, I’m frustrated by the board of education’s lack of focus on and reopening schools,” Patrick Wolff had told KRON4 in February.

The situation worsened for the San Francisco Unified School District and board of education once the city got involved.

San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against the school board and school district in February, claiming school officials failed to perform their duties in preparing for a return to school. The lawsuit was the first of its kind in California, and it had the backing of Mayor London Breed.

“The Board of Education and the school district have had more than 10 months to roll out a concrete plan to get these kids back in school. So far they have earned an F,” said Herrera in the lawsuit announcement. “Having a plan to make a plan isn’t going to cut it.”

He added that public schools in other Bay Area counties; Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Napa, “have all figured it out.”

School board members had defended its decision to rename schools this year, with member Mark Sanchez calling the renaming a “moral message” after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests called attention to nationwide racial injustices.

But even Breed wanted their attention solely on the students.

“What I cannot understand is why the school board is 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,” said Breed of the resolution. “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.”

In late February, school board president Gabriela Lopez tweeted that they will focus on reopening schools instead.

“This is the last time I’ll comment publicly on renaming until schools are reopened,” her statement began. “There have been many distracting public debates as we’ve been working to reopen our schools. School renaming has been one of them.”

In the latest resolution, the school board commits to revisiting the renaming issue “only after all students have returned to in-person learning for 5 full days each week.”

The school district had been following a plan which said “SFUSD will return to in-person learning once all actions in the district’s dashboard have been completed.”

The dashboard includes standards like:

  • An adequate testing plan
  • Staff training
  • Students and families informed of protocols
  • A minimum of three months of PPE for all participating staff and students
  • Labor agreements

The school board has approved a timeline which has staggered dates for students to start in-person learning again, from April 12.

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