A mural of Cesar Chavez is seen on the wall of Fairmount Elementary School in the Glen Park neighborhood on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. The school is considering renaming itself after Chavez’s fellow civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Board of Education considers expert panel to rename SF schools

The San Francisco Board of Education may bring in a panel of experts to help strip from The City’s public schools the names of controversial historical figures who have done “harm to humanity.”

A resolution authored by board Vice President Stevon Cook and Commissioner Mark Sanchez would establish a blue-ribbon panel of experts in fields such as history, the arts or ethnic studies to investigate the appropriateness of school names and forward name suggestions to the board. The panelists would be appointed by San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews and ratified by the school board by the start of the 2018-19 school year. The board is expected to vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.

The resolution states the board “finds it necessary” to engage communities in a larger discussion around the relevance of public school names in present day and to determine the “appropriateness of schools” named after historical figures who engaged in slavery, female oppression or whose actions led to genocide or infringed on the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” of humans.

SEE RELATED: Phelan Avenue to be renamed Frida Kahlo Way after public vote

“We owe it to ourselves to look at all the names and determine which names merit further consideration,” Sanchez said. “That’s what the panel would do, and then engage the school in the process.”

The panel would convene for “a year or two” to investigate historical figures and the appropriateness of school names, according to Sanchez, then hold public meetings before making its recommendations to the board. The resolution states the blue-ribbon panel will be dissolved by 2020.

A mural of Cesar Chavez is seen on the wall of Fairmount Elementary School in the Glen Park neighborhood on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. The school is considering renaming itself after Chavez’s fellow civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Details of the panel’s composition and responsibilites were addressed at an informational hearing on the resolution on Tuesday.

Cook said he envisions an “advisory committee-type of setup that is volunteer-based and has an application process.”

Sanchez recommended that the panel include representatives of The City’s Human Rights Committee, the Commission on the Status of Women and the local chapter of the NAACP, to name a few.

Over the last three decades, more than 50 schools have been renamed to honor historical figures or to uplift communities in a process that was largely voluntary. Last year, the board updated a policy addressing the naming of district-owned facilities, allowing for the creation of a advisory committee to review name suggestions.

Sanchez identified Fairmount Elementary School, located at 65 Chenery St. in Glen Park, as an example of a school that is seeking to change its name to honor labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. Fairmount is currently undergoing an internal community process to initiate the renaming.

The resolution would be a separate process to address “schools that wouldn’t come to us for a name change,” according to Sanchez.

The effort is part of a larger movement across the country to reexamine historical figures, icons and names of institutions, schools and streets in an effort to address past wrongdoings. In New Orleans, four statues commemorating confederate leaders were removed last year, and San Francisco leaders recently voted to remove a controversial monument depicting a Native American sitting at the feet of a Mexican vaquero and Franciscan monk.

In 2016, school board Commissioner Matt Haney called for the renaming of schools such as George Washington High School, sparking a national debate. Washington was a slave owner.

SEE RELATED: SF school board head calls for renaming slaveowner branded schools

Haney called the resolution “thoughtful, deliberate and intended to ensure that the voices of our schools communities lead this process,” adding that its intent was not to “force a conversation at a [school] like Washington,” but to establish a districtwide process that is “available and clear to school communities who want that conversation.”

“We have very few schools in our city that are named after important Latino or Chinese individuals,” Haney said. “In light of the fact that these are the two largest student communities … they should see themselves more fully reflected in the names of the schools they attend.”

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

At least 142 San Francisco International Airport workers have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)
Airlines, business groups fight new health insurance requirements for SFO workers

Heathy Airport Ordinance would require companies tooffer family coverage or increase contributions

Dr. Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, said Tuesday that student would not be back in school before the end of this calendar year. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Superintendent: City schools will not reopen before the end of the year

San Francisco public schools won’t reopen to students for the rest of… Continue reading

The Telegraph Quartet is pictured during its SF Music Day 2020 recording session at the striking, beautifully lit and almost empty Herbst Theatre. (Courtesy Marcus Phillips)
SF Music Day goes virtual with Herbst broadcast

Performers pre-record sets in empty, iconic theater

The admissions process at the academically competitive Lowell High School is set to change this year due to coronavirus restritions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Lowell’s selective admissions process put on hold this year — and more changes may be in the works

School board votes unanimously to use normal student assignment lottery for competitive school

San Francisco has failed to reduce traffic deaths enough to meet its Vision Zero goal. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco not on track to meet Vision Zero goals by 2024

Hamstrung by state laws, dwindling budget and limited resources, SFMTA tries to chart path forward

Most Read