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Critics Say Group Tasked With Renaming San Francisco Schools Needs To Do Its Homework

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The San Francisco Unified School District Board will soon be presented with a list of 44 schools that may merit renaming after ordering the study in 2018 to make sure none of their schools were named after people with objectionable pasts.

A list has now been drawn up by a volunteer panel, but critics are saying the renaming committee didn't dig very deep in their research.

The advisory committee included Abraham Lincoln High School on the objectionable list because it says the president who ended slavery "did not show that black lives mattered to him." A community advocacy group called Families for San Francisco has sent a letter to the Board saying the committee's intentions were good but its work was "deeply flawed."

"When you listen to them, most of the time, as far as we can tell, they didn't open any biographies on any of these people," said group member Patrick Wolff. "And there were famous historical figures that they literally only considered for a few seconds.  Sometimes it looks like they probably got the name wrong. They got the wrong person."

On the committee's research list, they seemed unsure if Roosevelt Middle School was named after Teddy or FDR, so something negative was cited for both. Sen. Diane Feinstein made the naughty list for once replacing a vandalized Confederate flag in front of City Hall. James Lowell, the namesake of Lowell High School, was an abolitionist poet and author who the committee says "wavered over the years" on his anti-slavery views.

Often the only research listed was a single Wikipedia post. At a committee Zoom meeting, one member seemed to acknowledge that.

"You know, we went through this list of 160 schools pretty quick with some really casual Google searches," he said.

But more than anything, Families for San Francisco objects to the lack of public input in the process. Wolff said the renaming committee needs to re-examine the issue, this time including input from historians and the public.

"Restart the process with a sustained, inclusive conversation with the larger SF community, involving historical experts.  Just acknowledge that they made a mistake and…do [the study] again," he said.

So far, the advisory committee is standing by its list. Perhaps they understand the no-win position of trying to please everybody. SF resident Bruno Zambonin doesn't think the City of San Francisco would ever agree on a list of names.

"I mean, I might like this name and you might like a different name," said Zambonin. "Does that qualify as something that we have to look at?"

On January 19, the board will review the list of recommended schools to discuss which should be renamed. Members say they welcome public input at their meetings.


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