HS 1327 administration neglects greater student population input on momentous name change

In July, our school decided to pursue the unprecedented action of changing our name from “Sir Francis Drake High School” to the temporary name “High School 1327” (HS 1327) in hopes of creating a more equitable and inclusive school community. The HS 1327 administration stated that the school would later vote to confirm this decision and select a permanent name.

However, a few obvious dilemmas presented themselves fairly quickly into this process – namely, how should we create a safe and supportive environment for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students when our school is mostly white?

The other main concern about changing our school name is the timing. Proceeding with this difficult and lengthy process, while also tackling distance/hybrid learning during a global pandemic, proves itself to be logistically tricky.

Considering these problems, admin has made errors during the name change process. Only one student survey polling if students had a positive, neutral, or negative experience with the name “Sir Francis Drake High School,” as well as ideas for future school action towards anti-racism, have been released since July. The poll was sent to approximately 60 students from our school population of about 1,400 students, and collected 42 responses. 

Our school’s name change should involve opinions from as many students as possible, and especially BIPOC students because they are most affected by the outcome of this issue.  HS 1327 admin is changing the school name to create a more equitable environment for BIPOC students, so shouldn’t they be more thoroughly surveyed?

The insufficient amount of student polling could give students the perception that their opinions were not being considered in this decision. In July, HS 1327 staff sent an email alerting our school community of their decision to begin changing the name – without surveying students first.

“While the name ‘Sir Francis Drake’ and the mascot ‘Pirates’ have been integral to our school identity for seventy years, we recognize that the time has come for us to embark upon a new name for our school, one that allows everyone in the community to participate. According to TUHSD Board Policy 7310, the Board of Trustees will consider a new name for approval for the school once a name is recommended by the school site council. We welcome you to join us in this process and thank you in advance for your input,” HS 1327 staff wrote in their email.

It seems that HS 1327 admin had already made their decision to change the name before asking the student body how they felt about this momentous issue. Our student body should have been surveyed more thoroughly, and our opinions should have been valued highly enough to be included in the decision to change our school name.

The Drake Leadership Council (DLC) reviewed the single survey before voting to change the name, and presented it to the public during their Nov. 19 meeting. They had the option to poll more students before voting, but decided not to. 

Of the 42 survey responses collected, 28.6 percent of the results were from BIPOC students. 91.7 percent of these BIPOC students did not indicate a negative experience with the name “Sir Francis Drake High School.”

In contrast, 64.2 percent of the results were from white students, and 66.6 percent of white students did indicate a negative experience with the name “Sir Francis Drake High School.” 

The question must be asked. If a majority of BIPOC students polled didn’t care to change the school name, was the DLC and HS 1327 admin right to do so anyway?

However, one thing that must also be considered is how legitimate the collected data is. According to the survey data released by the DLC, only around 4 percent of the student body was surveyed. The vast majority of BIPOC students could have a different opinion than displayed in the polls, because only a small percentage was asked. 

According to HS 1327 Assistant Principal Chad Stuart, the DLC had reasons for not polling more students.

“[The DLC] did create a small percentage of student data. They didn’t want to survey the whole school, because [the committee] realized that we have a disproportionate number of white students, and they wanted to elevate the voices of our students of color as best they could. They wanted to survey different sections of students,” said Stuart.

As for polling more BIPOC students specifically, some DLC members were fearful of anti-name change advocates targeting BIPOC students if they were the majority vote. This excuse seems lacking in thought, as the DLC’s excuse for not surveying the whole school was because they wanted to survey “different sections of students.”

Another misstep of admin’s pursuit of changing the name is the timing. The COVID-19 pandemic has shook our world completely. Schools are doing their best to adapt with distance learning and hybrid in-person learning models. For our admin to tackle a school name change while also facing a pandemic is not well thought out.

The name change is a monumental and important step in becoming an anti-racist school. Instead of diving into the name change process before having a name and a plan, admin should have taken more time to brainstorm name ideas, vet the suggestions, poll more students about the subject, and decide on a name. If this path was taken, our school could perform the name change with more thought and intent and in a timely manner.

However, admin did not pursue this course of action. They jumped headfirst into an unprecedented process before receiving input from the rest of the HS 1327 community. Therefore, our school is stuck in the seventh month of not having a school name, mascot, or identity.