When Tamalpais Union High School District superintendent ordered the name Sir Francis Drake removed from the San Anselmo school on July 28 and temporarily re-named the 70-year-old institution “High School #1327,” it ignited a firestorm.
Administrators were immediately accused of acting illegally by violating the Brown Act, the state law which requires public officials and agencies to obey certain open meeting requirements.
But that’s only half the story.
If the sudden name change wasn’t shocking enough, community members soon discovered the renaming would cost $430,000, a fact that was at first kept secret by Superintendent Tara Taupier and the Tamalpais Union High School Board of Trustees. State law requires the renaming funds come from sources other than taxpayer funds.
Emails obtained from the district through a public records request show district officials rushed to rename Sir Francis Drake High School over the summer break while public pressure mounted.
Teachers and administrators rushed during their summer vacation to pressure teachers to sign a “commitment statement” supporting the name change, while several teachers conspired to recruit and fund students to deface the school. Which occurred on July 27, days before staff removed school signage on July 29.
The process began picking up speed in early July when school board members began pressuring Drake administrators to move as quickly as possible to avoid public objections and political fallout.
“We have a parcel tax in November, potentially,” wrote Trustee Cynthia Roenisch in a July 2 email. “And some may create friction if date (board approval of new name) is too far in future.”
Sociology teacher Dan Freeman took the lead on convincing teachers to sign a commitment statement. “If the community sees a wave of educators, many of who[m] the community knows and trusts, it makes a clear statement,” Freeman wrote in a July 8 email to Drake teachers. “I believe it increases the likelihood that others will follow.”
Freeman also prescribed a strategy of persuasion. “Our goal is unanimous support for the statement and we want to make sure everyone receives a personal appeal to add their name.”
Ultimately, 115 of the school’s 127 teachers signed the commitment statement.
One teacher wrote that she was uncomfortable with the pressure and several others were worried that an expensive renaming process during shaky economic times would put jobs at risk and hurt education programs, particularly for students of color.
One teacher, speaking to the Pacific Sun on the condition of anonymity, said that if Drake, located in a wealthy district, receives a large grant for a non-educational project, the school would likely have difficulty getting future grants for needed education programs.
In a July 15 email, Freeman, who is a member of the school’s site council, suggested painting over campus signage and other emblems. In another email, English teacher Kendall Galli offered to organize students to carry out the hasty re-branding. “Like right now,” Galli wrote in an email. “Let’s tarp the ship with a camel colored tarp… and tarp or prime the back of the dugout…”
Several teachers advised against the defacing, but 12 days later school signs and logos were papered over and Taupier, the district superintendent, used the incident to invoke emergency authority, which she claimed allowed her to unilaterally remove the school’s name and replace it with a number.
“I felt it was time to remove the signage and pirate symbols at Drake,” Taupier said in a July 29 email to school board members after staff removed the school signage. “I was hoping to get our communication out prior to the news coverage but social media moved faster than I did.”