A group of San Francisco Unified School District alumni has sued the Board of Education and the superintendent to “permanently block” efforts to rename school buildings.
According to the New York Post, the group, which includes Harvard University’s Laurence Tribe, filed the lawsuit on Thursday claiming the district “erred by not giving community members or historians a chance to weigh in.”
Not doing so, the group’s lawyers say, was a violation of California’s Brown Act, which notes in its very first section that
the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
The saga of SFUSD’s renaming endeavor goes back at least to the fall when the board wanted to do away with building names honoring those associated with slavery, “oppression” and more. The board made its decisions official in January, but quickly backed off after acknowledging “mistakes in the process.”
School names on the chopping block included those commemorating Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even California Democratic US Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Alumni lawyers say the board’s recent reconsideration isn’t legally binding. They want assurances the board will “keep its word and follow legal protocols” moving forward.
“The whole process in itself was flawed because they decided on whether or not to rename 44 schools all in one vote with 30 minutes of public comment,” [attorney Paul] Scott said.
“Nobody was able to appear in person, and again, like I said, inadequate notice. So there were a number of problems with the process,” the lawyer continued.
Another alleged violation was that the school board misrepresented that an independent blue ribbon panel would weigh in on changing the names of schools — which the board had complained were named after “racist, sexist or oppressive” historical figures, including George Washington and Paul Revere.
“It wasn’t truly independent. It lacked expertise. There were no historians on the committee and ended up dictating what was going to happen before the school board even voted,” Scott said.
A three-week-old Change.org petition opposing district name changes currently has over 28,500 signatures out of 35,000 goal.
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