San Francisco school board suspends plan to rename schools, commits to reopening full time this fall

The San Francisco school board has reversed a much-criticized decision to rename 44 schools it said were linked to racism, sexism, slavery or other injustices.

In another controversial matter, the school board passed a resolution committing to reopen schools in the fall for all students K through 12 for full-time, in-person learning five days a week. The vote was unanimous.

Both moves were made to avoid costly litigation and tone down outrage at what critics call ill-timed activism.

The board voted late Tuesday to rescind its January decision to strip schools of the names, including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

The board had said the schools should be named after other figures in U.S. history who championed civil rights or marginalized communities.

One woman named Brandy supported the name change.

"My child's school is named after a segregationist. We went through the work of choosing new names. I'm very disappointed this is delayed," she said. "If and when you revisit the renaming of schools, please do what the Brown Act intended, that you conduct your business transparently and openly to the public, allow for varying points of view," said Karen Sakata, who said she was a graduate of Washington High School.

But critics blasted the board for some of its targets and its timing, saying it should focus on getting kids back into classrooms. The resolution says the board will revisit the matter after all students have returned to in-person learning.

Paul Scott is an attorney for the district alumni groups who filed a lawsuit claiming the process was unfair and not transparent or inclusive of community input.

Scott said a judge agreed and ordered the school district to repeal the resolution or appear in court to defend it.

"The sole reason that the board is reversing itself and the resolution is because of the lawsuit because they're being compelled to do so for fear of a court order requiring them to do it," Scott said. "I think we all have some shared values about the importance of reflecting on our history and uplifting disadvantaged groups, particularly those that are most oppressed, but it's a matter of following a process that respects the will of the communities."

The school board has been the focus of much criticism lately and many are concerned about the board's internal discord. 

 Calls for board member Allison Collins to resign over alleged racially biased social media posts were met with Collins' threat to sue fellow board members for millions of dollars.

"We're scared, It feels like SFUSD is falling apart and I am not a part of the family that can afford private school.  If SFUSD is crashing and burning which it seems it is, we have no other options," said Zoe, a Lowell High School senior.

The San Francisco Unified School District is preparing to welcome students in lower grades back to school for in-person learning on April 12.

A rally before the meeting by the group Decreasing Distance brought calls for more efforts to bring middle and high school students back to class.

"That is their first and foremost job is to be student-centered and to do what's best for students and they have not been doing that his year, and so yeah, I"m frustrated," said Meredith Willa Dodson, is a parent and founder of the group Decreasing Distance.

Dodson said she feels the board has not listened enough to parents who are struggling.

"The stories that I get, the families that reach out to me. It's heart-breaking. It's really hard to hear what they're going through for so long now," said Dodson, visibly emotional.

At the meeting, the district presented its reopening plans beginning with two waves of lower-grade schools next Monday.

School district officials say they will be monitoring students' health.

"In the case that a staff or student tests positive, say you're in one of the stable groups the entire classroom is identified as a close contact and everybody is contacted and sent to quarantine for ten days," said Mele Lau-Smith.

Some parents voiced concern that some students will be at school without their teacher.

"I have a kindergarten teacher say they will remain out of the room with a sub in the room. This is disappointing for young learners in kindergarten," said Gerald Kanapathy, a parent in the district.

Superintendent Vincent Matthews attended the virtual board meeting. He had planned to retire this year, however, he agreed to postpone retirement fto help the district and Board get through the pandemic.