Citing concerns that the history of colonialism conflict with the school system’s equitable values, South San Francisco school officials remain interested in changing the name of Junipero Serra Elementary School.
The South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees agreed to advance planning to change the name of the Daly City campus during a meeting Thursday, May 13.
But with a variety of more critical issues facing the district, officials agreed that challenges related to reopening schools should be addressed immediately before attention is directed toward naming issues.
“I support moving forward with the name change but I also really support being very thoughtful of the capacity of staff,” board President Daina Lujan said.
Detailing her perspective, Lujan made clear why she supported the transition.
“The name, as it currently stands, honors cultural practices that don’t align with our equity vision and that’s important to put that out there and be transparent about that,” Lujan said. “It is harmful and offensive to members of our community.”
Trustee John Baker shared a similar opinion.
“What does it say to our district native or Latinx students that we are honoring someone who helped devastate their ancestors’ culture?” he said.
The discussion moved ahead an agreement first made last June, when amid the summer’s social justice movement trustees instructed officials to begin the name change process.
The initial direction came in the wake of protesters toppling a statue of Serra in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Critics say the Spanish missionary was responsible for the indoctrination, enslavement and subjugation of Native American tribes.
Since then, Principal Teresa Sampayan started the lengthy administrative process which has required forming an oversight committee and surveying parents over what they think of the proposal.
Of the 110 survey responses submitted, Sampayan said 60% of the parents said they opposed the proposal, while about 29% said they would favor the switch.
Sampayan said that the results should not be considered representative because officials have not engaged in a public outreach effort educating the school community about why the name change is proposed.
“If we are spending the time to move this forward, that would be a big part our work — to educate why the name change was brought up,” she said.
What’s more, she noted that only parents participated in the survey and that the thoughts of students, faculty and broader community members would need to be considered as well.
Looking ahead, Sampayan said there are a variety of other onerous administrative tasks her team must complete to navigate the process of the name change. Plus, there is an estimated $50,000 worth of aesthetic changes to the site that must be addressed too, if the transition is ultimately approved.
While most officials favored the transition, board Vice President Mina Richardson said she was inclined to side with the surveyed community members who opposed the proposal.
“I’m just going to listen to the community myself,” she said.
Ultimately, she was overruled by her colleagues who instructed Superintendent Shawnterra Moore and other administrators to address the issue when the obligations of pandemic response have subsided.
“We don’t want this dragging out forever, but want to make sure that day-to-day operations are the priority,” Baker said.
Some noted South San Francisco is not interested in making similar missteps to school officials in San Francisco, who agreed to rename district campuses while simultaneously grappling with reopening challenges.
Trustee Pat Murray noted that local officials should attempt to keep their focus on daily campus operations, while addressing the name change over time.
“We have a lot right now moving forward with the new year and opening up schools,” she said. “But I do think it is important.”