A San Francisco public school district committee this month recommended that 44 schools with “inappropriate” names be renamed, with Junípero Serra Elementary School near the top of the list.
The district’s superintendent appointed the School Names Advisory Committee in 2018 to assess which schools, if any, ought to be renamed.
Among the committee’s recommendations for schools that ought to change their names were schools named for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Rooselvelt, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Muir, and Francis Scott Key.
St. Junípero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan priest and missionary, has been criticized by some activists as a symbol of colonialism and of the abuses that many Native Americans suffered after contact with Europeans. However, historians say Serra protested abuses and sought to fight colonial oppression.
Among the criteria that the committee reportedly used to asses school names were those of "anyone directly involved in the colonization of people, slave owners or participants in enslavement, perpetrators of genocide or slavery, those who exploit workers/people, those who directly oppressed or abused women, children, queer or transgender people, those connected to any human rights or environmental abuse [and] those who are known racists and/or white supremacists and/or espoused racist beliefs."
The panel has requested schools share alternate names by Dec. 18, with the school board voting on proposed new names in January or February of 2021, the Chronicle reported.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed last week criticized the advisory committee’s decision to recommend dozens of school name changes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement to local media, the school district said the schools are “not required or mandated to participate” in the renaming process.
CNA attempted to contact the principal of Junípero Serra Elementary to ask if the school plans to submit new name recommendations to the district, but did not receive a response.
Serra’s defenders say that he was actually an advocate for native people, noting an episode of his life when he drafted a 33-point “bill of rights” for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements and walking all the way from California to Mexico City to present it to the viceroy.
While many Native peoples did suffer horrific abuse, an archaeologist told CNA earlier this year that activists tend to conflate the abuses the Natives suffered long after Serra’s death with the period when Serra was alive and building the missions.
The saint lends his name to numerous buildings, schools, streets, and parks in California. Activists have led several successful efforts in recent years to expunge Serra’s name from some of them, including at Stanford University.
In 2018, Stanford renamed Serra Mall, a major thoroughfare through campus, “Jane Stanford Way.” The Serra House building and Serra House dorm in 2019 were renamed after Carolyn Lewis Attneave and Sally Ride respectively.
There is another Junípero Serra Elementary school near San Francisco in a different school district, whose name also has come under recent scrutiny. Members of the South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees proposed a change to that elementary school’s name in June. The name has so far remained as it is.
Among the schools recommended for a name change in San Francisco is Diane Feinstein Elementary, named after a longtime and current Democratic Senator.
Abortion-advocacy groups called for Feinstein to step down as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee after the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, claiming that Feinstein, who is pro-choice and has publicly criticized Barrett’s Catholic faith, lent an “appearance of credibility” to proceedings that were “widely out of step with the American people.”