SFUSD (Examiner file photo)

School Board should heed its own lessons when it comes to renaming schools

By Paul Scott

Our firm has raised a legal challenge to a January 26, 2021 resolution by the San Francisco Board of Education that declares 44 public schools will be renamed, based on their namesakes’ alleged ties to racism or other oppressive conduct. In adopting its resolution, the Board relied on the findings of an unelected panel selected by the Superintendent of Schools and ratified by the Board. News reports have identified numerous examples of apparent factual errors by the panel relating to James Lick, James Russell Lowell, Paul Revere, Francisco Sanchez, and others.

Our correspondence to the City challenged the lack of proper notice and due process by which the Board arrived at its resolution but without ad hominen attacks on the Board. Nonetheless, in an opinion piece published in the Examiner on Sunday, the School Board’s President and Vice President took a different approach. After complaining about finger-pointing and acrimonious comments by others, they then placed blame on our firm for delaying the School Board’s reopening efforts and suggested we are trying to use kids for a political agenda.

“[W]e were due to meet this Tuesday to vote on part of the reopening plan, but now, we have to hold a closed session to discuss litigation filed by people who claim to have our students’ best interests at heart. … It is one thing to try to use children and young people as ammunition to bolster one’s political agenda. It is quite another to actually care about their education and wellbeing.”

-Gabriela Lopez and Alison Collins, SF Examiner, February 15, 2021

These comments were made without reference to the fact that the School Board created the instant legal issue itself, by unlawfully passing its renaming resolution when it could have been spending time on getting the schools open. This is akin to arguing the School Board should be permitted to ignore due process and spend any amount of time on its renaming efforts, but the residents of San Francisco should not interfere with the Board’s violations of law lest they take up Board time that would be better spent on getting kids back in school. The problems with this logic are manifest.

But the fallibility of the Board President’s logic is not the reason for this letter. It is the President’s claim that those supporting the legal challenge are weaponizing children to bolster a political agenda, while only she and her supporters actually care about the kids’ education and well-being.

First, as a purely factual matter, our letters to the Mayor and to the School Board do not make any claims about what result would be in the best interests of the students. Our repeated point has simply been that the potentially affected school communities should each be given a full and fair opportunity to be heard, in person, on a school-by-school basis, when the kids are back in school. This proposal is precisely the opposite of a political agenda regarding the ultimate question of whether any particular school should be renamed. It just seeks a fair process and prioritizes getting the children back in their classrooms.

By contrast, when the Board President and her supporters violate California’s open meeting law and basic notions of due process, then excuse that conduct with the suggestion that only the Board cares about our children’s best interests, a genuine question arises as to who, in fact, is guilty of using our kids to impose a political agenda on San Francisco’s communities.

This kind of divisive behavior – falsely impugning the character of those who question the Board’s conduct and engaging in win-at-all-costs rhetoric – is not what is needed right now. Racism and other forms of oppression are manifestly critical concerns we all share. Building up those who have been disadvantaged or oppressed, through public recognition and otherwise, is similarly vital. But disingenuous extremism, where one side claims a monopoly on morality, always does more harm than good, for it simultaneously polarizes us and gives sustenance to extremists on the other side.

This is again why due process and the rule of law matter. This will not be the last difficult issue that we have to contend with as a City or as a society, and only through full and honest public debate can the genuine will of our communities be heard and hopefully respected.

Paul Scott is a San Francisco attorney.

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