Feinstein Elementary, named for the current U.S. senator and former San Francisco mayor, was slated for renaming under an SFUSD board plan. (Photo/Google Maps)
Feinstein Elementary, named for the current U.S. senator and former San Francisco mayor, was slated for renaming under an SFUSD board plan. (Photo/Google Maps)

Facing litigation, S.F. school board rescinds renaming plan

Faced with a lawsuit and an unfavorable ruling from a Superior Court judge, the San Francisco school board voted on Tuesday to rescind a controversial January resolution approving the renaming of 44 district schools.

The reversal, approved 6-0 at a regular board meeting conducted on Zoom, means that Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, Abraham Lincoln High School and others that had attracted considerable controversy during the renaming process will remain unchanged for now. The board said it would revisit the renaming effort only after students returned to school five days a week, likely in the fall.

Some Jewish groups, including a collection of parents at Feinstein Elementary, expressed opposition specifically to the renaming of that school, which was proposed because of an incident involving the then–San Francisco mayor in 1984 (Feinstein defended the inclusion of a Confederate battle flag in a historical display outside City Hall).

Feinstein supporters cited a political career spanning more than 50 years during which she advocated for liberal causes and broke barriers for women in politics.

“Sen. Dianne Feinstein represents a deep source of pride within the local Jewish community as the first female [m]ayor of San Francisco and the first Jewish [s]enator from California,” JCRC executive director Tye Gregory wrote in a blog post in January. “While some may not agree with her politics, her trailblazing history does not remotely meet the outlined criteria for school renaming.”

The San Francisco Board of Education announced in February it would pause the renaming effort amid scathing public criticism. Approximately one-third of the district’s public schools were targeted for links to racism, colonialism and other injustices. Included were schools named for presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, writer Robert Louis Stevenson and Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere.

The vote Tuesday to suspend the renaming effort came after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ordered the school board to either reverse course or face ongoing litigation.

In March, alumni of Lincoln and Washington high schools and a collection of city residents filed suit in Superior Court, arguing that the board’s Jan. 26 approval of the list of schools to be renamed was done hastily, without due process and without adequately informing the public.

On March 18, Schulman sided with the plaintiffs, ordering the board either to vacate the renaming resolution and dissolve the renaming committee, or explain to the judge why it had not done so on May 6.

In the text of the resolution rescinding the vote, the board said it wished “to avoid the distraction and wasteful expenditure of public funds in frivolous litigation,” calling the suit “nothing more than a transparent attempt to thwart a lawful and duly-noticed action with which it disagrees.”

The board will revisit the matter of renaming city schools, the resolution said, “only after all students have returned to in-person learning five full days each week,” adding that the board was “deeply grateful for the work of the [p]anel.”

Sarah Stettler, a Feinstein Elementary School parent and longtime San Franciscan who considers the senator a personal role model — and who has been advocating to preserve the name — told J. in an email she was “very happy” with the board’s decision. Still, considering the lawsuit, “I don’t think they deserve any credit for finally doing the right thing,” she said.

“Dianne Feinstein did not meet their criteria for renaming,” Stettler wrote. “The BOE voted to rename schools while disregarding gross errors of fact… and showed blatant contempt for due process and the feelings of school communities.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.