SF school board head calls for renaming slaveowner branded schools

The head of San Francisco’s school board wants to strip the names of slaveholders off local public schools like George Washington High School, one of many schools in The City named after dead white men with “problematic” histories, he said Monday.

Board of Education President Matt Haney is expected to introduce a resolution as early as next week encouraging schools in the San Francisco Unified School District that bear the names of men with questionable human rights legacies to consider proposing new monikers.

Haney is hoping the school district can have more schools named after people of color, women and LGBT figures, he said.

“Most of our schools are going to be fine with the names that they have but there are a handful of schools where at least the question should be brought up,” Haney said.

The idea came to him after listening to a sermon Sunday at Third Baptist Church, a black church in the Western Addition, about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protesting the national anthem in recent weeks. The song’s slave-owning author, Francis Scott Key, has a school named after him in the Outer Sunset.

Haney stirred up a conversation Sunday when he posted on Facebook that Washington High should drop the first president’s name and instead be called Maya Angelou High School after the famed author and poet who attended school there.

“We tearing them all down,” wrote in a Facebook comment in response to a suggestion that the school named after Key be renamed after Kaepernick. “No schools named after people who bought and owned human beings and committed genocide.”

There are also a large number of schools in the SFUSD that carry the names of men that have little meaning or connection to the campuses, Haney noted.

Take for instance Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School in the Outer Sunset, which for unknown reasons carries the name of the man who authored “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” or James Lick Middle School in Noe Valley.

The latter is named after one of the wealthiest men in California in the late 1800s, yet in the 2015 school year, 81 percent of students there were socio-economically disadvantaged.

“I don’t think the goal is to condemn people who died a long time ago,” Haney said. “The question is whether there might be a more appropriate, meaningful name.”

The SFUSD has made several name changes to be more reflective of the community, including renaming schools after Cesar Chavez, George Moscone and Harvey Milk, according to Haney.

Haney is running for re-election to the school board in November.

Michael Barba
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Michael Barba

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