The Dixie School District in San Rafael, Calif., is keeping its name — at least for the time being.
Members of the school board voted Tuesday evening to reject 13 suggestions for new names proposed by residents who believe the current name is racist and reflects the school district’s original ties to supporters of the Confederacy and slavery.
Although the board didn’t approve a new name, members signaled they would continue to look at whether the Dixie moniker should be removed and, if so, how that should be done. Most of the board’s five members said they believe the name should change and scheduled a meeting for later this month to discuss a process for doing that.
The vote came at the end of a five-hour public meeting marked by a passionate comment period in which supporters and opponents of the Dixie name expressed their opinions. Debate over the name of this 2,000-student district north of San Francisco has become increasingly bitter during the past six months, with both sides attacking each other on social media and at public hearings.
Board member Marnie Glickman, who has led the effort to change the name, said she was disappointed about the decision to delay action. She referenced three previous efforts to change the district name beginning in 1997.
“This is a decision that’s been before us for 22 years,” Glickman said. On Tuesday, “they voted 13 times to choose to reject new names for the district. In my opinion, they voted 13 times to keep Dixie, which is a hurtful, shameful name. This is another inexcusable delay.”
Supporters of keeping the Dixie name claimed victory after the board’s votes.
“We are very happy with the decision because it has always been our position that we would not accept the bully tactics and attempts to circumnavigate an inclusive process within our community,” Renee Adelmann, one of the organizers of We Are Dixie, which has fought to keep the Dixie name, said in an email. “I do think that the name could eventually change, but if it does it will be our community that decides what it will be and not just a small group of people.”
We Are Dixie supporters argue the district was named for Mary Dixie, a Miwok Indian. They say the effort to change the name has been led by outsiders and is a campaign more about political correctness than history.
But many who want to change the name, especially the small number of African American families in the district, find the Dixie appellation offensive and say the historical record is clear that the name of the school system, which began in 1864, memorializes the Confederate cause.
“We should be honest about the name and how it came about,” Bruce Anderson, whose son and grandson attended Dixie schools, told The Washington Post last month. Supporters of keeping the name are not white supremacists, he said, “but they think the name is benign and represents goodness in the community, and I have a totally different belief than that.”
Name-change advocates have the support of many local community organizations and political leaders including Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, who oversees all of the county’s school districts.
Although the board’s vote against the proposed names was a setback, Glickman said she is not deterred.
“We are going to change the name of the school district; I’m certain,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do for our students. We need to teach them about history and racism and doing what is best for others.”