San Francisco suspends plan to rename Lincoln, Washington schools

The San Francisco school board has suspended a controversial plan to rename a third of its public schools as part of a racial reckoning that targeted figures including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The vote Tuesday night addressed a dispute that has been simmering for months.

Supporters of the plan to rename 44 schools wanted to rid these institutions of the monikers of people associated with racism, slavery or colonization.

Critics complained the plan made the famously liberal city an even larger target for criticism from the right wing and said the plan was carried with a flawed public-meeting process.

The move dates back to the creation of a commission in May 2018 to revise the names of public schools, long before statues of Christopher Columbus or figures from the US Confederate south were toppled by anti-racism protesters in the wake of George Floyd's death under the knee of a white policeman in May 2020.

The commission created a list of 44 schools to be renamed, such as that bearing the name of Spanish missionary Junipero Serra.

Among them were schools named for presidents Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned slaves, as well as Francis Scott Key, the author of the US national anthem.

Abraham Lincoln -- the symbol of the abolition of slavery in the US -- was also under fire, accused by some of having played a role in the massacre of Native American tribes.

In its vote Tuesday night, the school board embraced and formalized a statement that its president Gabriela Lopez made in February to the effect that the renaming would be put on hold until students doing class at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic return to in person learning.

"We recognize we need to slow down. And we need to provide more opportunities for community input. We are working with educators at all levels to involve and educate our school communities about the renaming process," Lopez wrote at the time in an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The decision to rename schools had sparked sharp criticism, including from the current mayor of San Francisco, London Breed.

Breed, who is the city's first Black, female mayor, criticized the school board's decision to focus its energy on renaming schools at a moment when the education system is facing an uphill battle to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic as well as hardships associated with virtual homeschooling.