SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California schools chief Tony Thurmond said Wednesday that schools named for Confederate leaders or other racially charged figures exacerbate feelings of racial inequality, and he commended schools that have opted to rename themselves.
“I applaud those schools that have taken these conversations up,” he said, and those who have worked “to rename schools in ways that are more thoughtful and more sensitive.”
Thurmond’s comments, in response to a question at a media briefing, came after the Berkeley Unified School District Board unanimously approved a plan last week to rename two schools named for founding fathers who were slaveholders.
“When we have institutions, not just schools, that are named after Confederate leaders, that are named after those who perpetuated racism, lynching and hate, that exacerbates feelings of race in our schools,” said Thurmond, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Three weeks after the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer sparked widespread protests, Confederate statues are being defaced and torn down across the country. Those protests show that the country needs to have difficult conversations to help it heal, Thurmond said.
“We need reconciliation that racism has shaped so many factors that we are still dealing with today,” Thurmond said. “There are conversations ahead for sure. I think we should enter into those hard conversations, to move to that reconciliation, to move to healing.”
The Berkeley Unified School District board unanimously approved a “Resolution in Support of Black Lives Matter,” which started the process of of renaming Jefferson and Washington elementary schools. The current school names commemorate the first and third U.S. presidents, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, who both owned slaves.
Berkeley community members previously tried and failed to rename Jefferson Elementary. The current Black Lives Matter movement inspired a renewed, successful effort to change the schools’ names.