Should San Francisco schools with names tied to slavery be changed?

Carolyn Tyler Image
ByCarolyn Tyler KGO logo
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Should SF schools with names tied to slavery be changed?
As the city of San Francisco wrestles with historic ties to slavery, the phrase what's in a name is taking on new urgency.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the city of San Francisco wrestles with historic ties to slavery, the phrase "what's in a name" is taking on new urgency.

FULL INTERVIEW: 49ers QB Kaepernick responds to national anthem controversy

Colin Kaepernick's decision to not stand for the national anthem is re-igniting debate about the anthem's author. A school is named for Francis Scott Key in San Francisco, and now the school district is re-considering that name and others.

A resolution will be introduced later this month and judging from the overheated rhetoric I received on Twitter including comments like, "This is just trying to erase history" and others saying this is "long overdue," this is a touchy subject.

Students at Francis Scott Key Elementary in the city's Sunset District may not know the man who penned the Star Spangled Banner also owned slaves, but San Francisco School Board President Matt Haney does and says it's time to consider a name change.

"Our school name communicates something to our kids," he said. "It says something about who we want them to be, what we value, so it's important."

Also on Haney's list are Jefferson Elementary and George Washington High, where a large statue of the first president stands. He too was a slave owner, but ninth grader Katelen Rivas and her dad Rob say leave the name alone.

"That's, like, in the past," she said.

Her dad added, "We've been using that name for a very long time, it's been working, just leave it."

RELATED: Obama defends Kaepernick's national anthem protest

But on the other side, parent Ashlynn Kalahele says they should dump a name that represents oppression.

"In order for us to teach our kids, the next generation, how to overcome this, it has to start with the schools," she said.

Student teacher Steve Huebner suggested, "Maybe rename them with a person who's more relevant to current times? Or at least, like t."

Haney, who's running for re-election, points to Harvey Milk Academy and Cesar Chavez Elementary as powerful symbols.

No action will be taken unless students, staff, parents, and alumni agree

"It's deep," said school coach Greg Jenkins. "It's something I have to sit down and think about."

There's no estimate on what it would cost for any changes.