The Septuagenarian Speaks – Published Oct 21, 2020, Siskiyou Daily News

Do you know who London Breed is?  I didn’t either until last Friday.  She is the mayor of San Francisco, and made national headlines Friday by stating that she found it “offensive” that the San Francisco Unified School District is expending its resources toward changing the names of the district’s schools at a time when the district’s schools remain closed.  Mayor Breed had the audacity to suggest that given the public health emergency, hey, maybe reopening public schools should be the district’s priority, especially since the private schools in the city are open.

As someone who for decades has not been a fan of San Francisco mayors, when I read what Mayor Breed said, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised.  Holy moly, a San Francisco mayor really said this?  Let’s look at what she actually said:

“Schools have been allowed to open in San Francisco under public health orders issued at the beginning of September and while many private schools are open today, our public schools have still not yet made a firm plan to open. Parents are frustrated and looking for answers. The achievement gap is widening as our public schools’ kids are falling further behind every single day,” she said.

“And now, in the midst of this once in a century challenge, to hear that the district is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools — schools that they haven’t even opened — is offensive. It’s offensive to parents who are juggling their children’s daily at-home learning schedules with doing their own jobs and maintaining their sanity. It’s offensive to me as someone who went to our public schools, who loves our public schools, and who knows how those years in the classroom are what lifted me out of poverty and into college. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends,” she continued.

“We are in a pandemic right now that is forcing us all to prioritize what truly matters. Conversations around school names can be had once the critical work of educating our young people in person is underway. Once that is happening, then we can talk about everything else. Until those doors are open, the School Board and the District should be focused on getting our kids back in the classroom,” she said.

Wow!  That’s powerful stuff.  I could really get to like Mayor Breed.

To me what’s going on with San Francisco’s public schools and Mayor Breed’s critical speech are prescient and metaphorical; they highlight much of what we are doing wrong these days.  San Francisco has a problem (okay, it has a lot of problems, but right now I’m talking about schools).  Private schools have been open for some time, but the district can’t manage to get the public schools open.  Yet they’re worried about renaming their schools because the current names aren’t politically correct?   The San Francisco Unified School District has put a lot of resources into its school renaming process.  The District Board passed a resolution to identify schools for name changes.  This was done responsive to public sentiment and a media frenzy in support of tearing down monuments and stripping public institutions of names belonging to controversial public figures.  The district created a “School Names Advisory Committee” in 2018.   So far, the committee has identified 42 schools for name changes.  According the San Francisco Chronicle, some of the evil names proposed for obliteration are Abraham Lincoln High School, George Washington High School, Roosevelt Middle School, and Jefferson Elementary.  There was even a recommendation to change the name of Dianne Feinstein Elementary School because the senator and former San Francisco mayor reportedly replaced a vandalized Confederate flag back in 1986.

Why is Mayor Breed’s comment noteworthy?  For me, it symbolizes a larger issue than San Francisco’s school problem.  A big problem, such as a pandemic, is difficult to solve, especially for politicians, who worry more about how their actions will affect their poll standings and re-electability than about finding an actual solution.  Rather than tackle the big problem, the politician responds by creating a different problem to focus on, if it’s politically advantageous to do so.

If San Francisco’s public schools were open, and if Mayor London Breed were a student, I would give her an “A.”

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