School District Emails Reveal Details of Hasty Name Change Process

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Tamalpais Union High School District

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.”

22 COMMENTS

  1. Why not contact CNN and see if they would do a story on the name change. I hope it would include how the powers to be behaved and the pros and cons of buccaneer Sir Francis Drake.

  2. The ill-fated Measure B of last March garnered 56,859 votes, counting both pro and con. Yet the numbers involved in the “listening sessions” would appear to be only about 1% of that. For such an important issue, this is superficial “public outreach”. The only way to obtain a fair response from the public is to send a special ballot to all registered voters within the school district, some time after November 3. But I suspect the Board and many Drake staff may not want to do this because the vote may well come back in favor of keeping the Drake name. Unfortunately, Measure M may serve the same purpose.

  3. Hi John,
    Have heard you on two separate occasions on the listening sessions. If this is true, they are in worse shape than we all thought. I am the eldest of six Drake grads, class of ’79, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’86, ’88 and my son second generation Pirate grad, class of 2007. I am also an educator in the district and have been in varying capacities since 1991. I have been speaking out against the name change since early June when it surfaced. I have been on every public meeting both county sponsored or school district meetings. This whole thing is really unbelievable! If staff was in fact involved in setting this up, I really can’t think of anything worse. That is completely unethical to say the least! Here’s to finishing this thing once and for all!
    Go Drake Pirates!

  4. The Content of One’s Character
    Those who have offered angry statements in regard to the legacy of Sir Francis Drake have engaged in passing judgment on his entire life without knowing all the facts. It is called prejudice. This, along with the hatred that prejudice can promote, is exactly what people protesting in the streets is are committed to end. Understanding the true content of one’s character is the only road to real understanding and respect. It is also critically important to not let something that happened when a person was in their formative years define their entire life.
    I find that, to many, there is either a lack of understanding of Drake’s actions towards human equality as a mature man, or the refusal to understand and recognize the power of redemption, which has been the key to success of many great people in world history.

    Immediately following his brief apprenticeship aboard his cousin’s slave ship, Drake dedicated himself to a lifelong fight against Spanish tyranny and oppression by defending England and battling those who we’re enslaving native peoples around the world. Drake became a champion for the freedom of both Blacks and Native Americans and freed thousands of Blacks from Spanish enslavement. He gave equal pay for equal work to freed Blacks who worked aboard his ships and was awarded the Drake Jewel by the Queen for his alliance with Blacks against Spanish enslavement. In terms of promoting human equality, Francis Drake became a true renaissance man of the Elizabethan era.

    Condemning the man Drake became as an enemy of the Black man is exactly who the leader Sir Francis Drake was not. Again, overcoming prejudice and hatred, caused by not fully understanding one’s actions, or the true content of one’s character, is largely what the Black Lives Matter Movement is all about.

    Learn more about Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake: sfdrakefoundation.org

  5. This story is clearly biased against the name change. I am a staff member and this was not forced on anyone. This is not a news report, this is an opinion piece.

  6. Wow shame on the admin and staff That created this little staged event time to fall on the sword and resign long live Sir Francis Drake High School-

  7. If there is a half a million dollar cost to rename Charge those whom signed to change the name. I’m certainly sticking by SFD As I am a Pirate and I will never cave to the pansies allowing Dems and Black people to pressure us to confirm to their sniveling. This is our history. If you don’t like it. Find another nation. PIRATES FOREVER RRRRRRRR.

  8. All these white people who care so much about this name. I want to hear from Black Americans living in Marin. They are pretty much the litmus for this kind of thing. If they want the name gone, it should BE gone.

    • Well, this isn’t really a Black/White race issue. Drake was in no way a racist. And his involvement in the slave trade was overwhelmingly on the side of fighting against it. Not to mention that in the 16th century slavery was not race-based; people from all races were enslaved at that time.

  9. What is ridiculous is spending 430K on this. What about doing something that makes a real impact on our community and people of color, such as donating that money to charities that directly benefit them? THAT would be money well spent.

  10. You are missing the point. I say let the students decide. The legacy name has nothing to do with modern times, it does not connect with their lives in any manner, and for you adult graduates to impose your political viewpoints on the students through this resistance to the name change is wrong headed and imbecilic. Allowing the students to drive this proposal forward will energize and empower them, which is indeed what education is supposed to do. I’m a Drake grad and I personally am not vested either way on this issue. Let the kids run with it. I support the asking of the question, I love the debate itself, and I hope the outcome will reflect the wishes of a majority of students.

    • John

      There are many alumni that don’t want name change to happen. Has nothing to do with being racist

      John Lewis said it best

      The Edmund Pettus Bridge symbolises both who we once were, and who we have become today… Renaming the bridge will never erase its history. Instead of hiding our history behind a new name we must embrace it – the good and the bad. The historical context of the Edmund Pettus Bridge makes the events of 1965 even more profound. The irony is that a bridge named after a man who inflamed racial hatred is now known worldwide as a symbol of equality and justice. It is Biblical – what was meant for evil, God uses for good.’

  11. Not totally surprised by this. . . . The woke mob within the DHS leadership made the executive decision without thinking it through.

    So you take one of the few things in the community that truly is a shared source of pride and togetherness and then you make it the centerpiece of of a bleep storm that divides the community.

    Shame on the district and site leadership + staff that participated in that Ill advised decision.

    Good luck getting the bond passed in the Fall!

  12. The Drake Fund struggles to raise $$ to provide/supplement Student enrichment & sports programs. I graduated 1977, my son 2008. They struggled to raise $100K when he attended. Last year they raised over $300K (I was an annual donor up until a couple of yrs ago due to my finances). Last year there were 1300 students at Drake. 140 received reduced/free lunches. There are probably more this year due to our economic situation if the program still exists as students are not on campus right now. The Drake Fund requests each family to donate $750. Adding $469 for parcel tax in this economy is ludicrous! Changing the name of the school is NOT going to fix the racism issues among the student body. If the school thinks they can raise an additional $400+K, they should use it to educate the students about racism and the history of SF Drake the explorer. I was amazed at how many recent grads that spoke on the most recent Zoom discussion were unaware of who he was and were underinformed. He never owned slaves. Most other wealthy white men did for 100’s of years. We had a Civil War & denounced slavery in this country ~160 years ago. The school should most definitely make it mandatory curriculum in every History class to report the facts & promote discussion. His life was what happened during that time, as written by European folks, again, as per period in History. We have progressed since then, yet racism is still on the table for discussion & protests.
    Brad Beedle’s reference to John Lewis’ statement regarding the Edmund Pettus Bridge would be the best argument to keep Drake Pirates & move on.

  13. If these teachers conspired to be corrupt and educated the students to do the same, there are far bigger problems at that school. How scary and sad.

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