'I am livid': Mayor Breed says focus should be on disadvantaged students, not renaming schools

"The fact that our kids aren't in school is what's driving inequity in our city, not the name of a school," Mayor Breed said.

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Saturday, October 17, 2020
Mayor Breed blasts efforts for SF school name changes
The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting nearly a third of San Francisco Unified schools are considering a imminent name change due to namesakes linked to slavery, oppression, and gentrification by an SFUSD advisory committee.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On Friday, the county reported nearly a third of San Francisco schools are considering an imminent name change due to links the names have to slavery, oppression and gentrification.

Records show 44 schools in total are working on new names after being implored by the San Francisco Unified School District School Names Advisory Committee to seek replacements.

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Some of the schools up for renaming include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein schools.

Each school is expected to come up with alternative names by December 18th.

Meanwhile, some parents are upset that district officials are focusing on school names while many students are struggling with pandemic and distance learning, like Commodore Sloat Elementary School parent Johnathan Alloy.

"We're not actually helping disadvantaged children," Alloy explained to the San Francisco Chronicle, "by changing the name of the school they can't attend."

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed also issued a statement Friday calling the ongoing effort an "offensive" move by district officials, and urging them to focus on safely reopening public schools for in person learning rather than renaming at this time.

"I believe in equity, it's at the forefront of my administration and we've made historic investments to address the systemic racism confronting our city," Breed said, "but the fact that our kids aren't in school is what's driving inequity in our city, not the name of a school."

"We are in a pandemic right now that is forcing us all to prioritize what truly matters," the mayor added, "conversations around school names can be had once the critical work of educating our young people in person is underway. Once that is happening, then we can talk about everything else."

In audio shared by Breed's office, she explained, "The vulnerable populations of this city are going to suffer the most if we can't get our act together. So I put out a statement because I am livid. I am livid. And now we're going to talk about renaming schools, and we haven't even opened them. How offensive."

Her written statement and those words coming just one day after she and a dozen other California mayors wrote Governor Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, urging them to safely reinstate in-person classes.

RELATED: San Francisco Unified identifies 44 schools eligible to be renamed

ABC7 News also spoke with State Senator Scott Wiener, who threw his support behind Breed about timing. However, he has no objection to considering whether certain schools should be renamed.

"Just to be clear, I have no problem with the school district taking a look at the names on our schools, and seeing if some of them should be changed," he told ABC7 News. "I commend the school district for really thinking that way, because we want to make sure that the names of our schools reflect our values- and in 2020, here in San Francisco. So I don't have a problem with that."

Sen. Wiener continued, "But, when they're talking about something as huge as potentially renaming up to 1/3 of all schools- which will be incredibly contentious. A huge use of limited school district resources during a pandemic, when our schools are closed, when parents and kids are suffering at home- particularly kids who are having trouble engaging in remote learning... We need to do everything in our power and be completely focused on supporting those families."

San Francisco Unified officials say as of now, the panel is expected to meet in early January to consider the alternative names from school communities, and submit final recommendations to the board in late January or early February.

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The Christopher Columbus statue near Coit Tower was vandalized. Red paint covered the face of the controversial colonist, while the base of the statue had graffiti that read "Destroy all monuments of genocide and kill all colonizers."

On Friday, SF Board of Education President Mark Sanchez released a statement that read in part:

"The Board of Education at this time is not using its time or energy on school names; the all-volunteer advisory committee is charged with doing the work and providing recommendations to the Board in 2021."

The statement also addressed, "My colleagues and I are in full agreement that the biggest priority is ensuring the continued education of our students and the wellbeing of everyone in our community, including students, staff and their families. We also believe the timing for taking an anti-racist stance is as much now as ever, even in the midst of the pandemic. But I want to assure you that reopening schools is in no way being held up by the community process the school renaming panel is engaged in."

In audio shared by Breed's office, she said, "Nothing should be on their agenda other than, what is our plan and our timeline to reopen schools. We shouldn't even be having a conversation about anything else."

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It is unclear what the cost would be to rename the schools, but it would likely be tens of thousands of dollars for each school to pay for new signage and other needs.

Senator Wiener added, "I know that our Board of Education, and our school district staff are working hard. I don't doubt that at all, and I'm not here to 'diss' them. This is what they're doing, and I commend them for the work that they're doing. But that needs to be the focus because so many kids and families are suffering right now."

It is unclear what the cost would be to rename the schools, but it would likely be tens of thousands of dollars for each school to pay for new signage and other needs.