Dixie school district sidesteps calls to change name

An embattled Marin County school board sidestepped another opportunity Tuesday, to change it's "Dixie" name.

The district in north San Rafael was presented with two potential names and rebuffed both, despite calls to do take action. 

"How can you fail to be moved?" implored speaker Debra Taube, during the public hearing portion of the school board meeting.  "Every child in this district is watching and learning from you that African-American pain is less urgent, less important than other people's pain," continued Taube. 

The Dixie Elementary School District encompasses four schools and about 1,800 students. 

For months, it has been roiled by emotions on both sides: those who find the name a nod to slavery and racial violence, and those who believe it has value as a local tradition for generations of families. 
Last month, during a raucous meeting that stretched for six hours, trustees rejected 13 proposed names.

At the time, most members said they would prefer to develop a name change policy and process, rather than act arbitrarily on submitted petitions. That policy is evolving, but not fast enough for some. 

"The two names you have before you now meet every single one of your criteria," said speaker Scott Clark, who lives in the school district, and urged no more delays. 

"This is about racism, racism in Marin County and we shouldn't deceive ourselves about this."    

Two names were considered and rejected: Sojourner Truth Elementary - honoring an escaped slave who became an abolitionist and women's right's leader- and Live Oak Valley Elementary, with the acronym LOVE, submitted by a fifth grade student. 

"Love School District. The name has resonance," said Change the Name organizer Bruce Anderson, "and you can end this meeting now, you have everything you need to start this community on the path to love." 

Only one trustee was willing to embrace either of the two names on the spot. 

"Sojourner Truth is an American hero, and LOVE is tied to the earth and beautiful," said trustee Marnie Glickman, who has led the name-change drive. "In my opinion, in choosing to reject these two names, we are choosing Dixie all over again."

But the board spent time instead refining its name change strategy.

By studying practices of other Bay Area school districts, it has identified criteria criteria for a new name: that it be local, lasting, inspirational, and inclusive.

The next step will be forming a citizens committee, or a dozen or more participants, and handing off the search to them. 

By mid-May, the panel is expected to present between 3 and 12 replacement names for the board to act on.

Trustees expressed hope that the collaborative process could help heal divisions, not only over the Dixie moniker, but the antagonistic debate. 

"I saw this picture of somebody with a Confederate flag at a peace march," said speaker Ann Ocheltree, holding up a newspaper clipping as she spoke to the board. 

The photo in question was taken Sunday, during a neighborhood anti-Dixie march that further enflamed emotions.

Ocheltree urged the trustees to stick to a previous plan, and put the issue to an advisory vote by district residents. "For me I would keep it Dixie because I don't think it's a confederate name," said Ocheltree, "and it's from 150 years ago, let's move on."

But Dixie critics insist the name is more offensive and distressing now, than ever.  

"If all those signs out there ready Auschwitz School District, you wouldn't be in here having a meeting," said resident Jane Jewell to the board.

"You would be out there with an ax knocking them down, but Dixie is as offensive to African Americans as Auschwitz is to Jews."  

If Dixie is changed to a new name before the end of the school year, presumably the switch could happen in time for classes next Fall. 

The non-profit Marin Community Foundation has offered to pick up the $25,000 cost, which includes new signage, bus-sides, stationary, and uniforms.