Group in favor of keeping Serra High School name plans to file suit

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SAN DIEGO – A group plans to file a lawsuit Wednesday in a push to keep the San Diego Unified School District from renaming Junípero Serra High School in Tierrasanta.

The district’s board in March voted unanimously to rename the school to Canyon Hills High amid a student-led effort claimed using Serra’s name honored a brutal period in history where millions of indigenous people were killed while the mission system was being established.

Instead of the Conquistadors mascot, Canyon Hills High now will be home to the Rattlers.

“There were about 45,000 people in Tierrasanta who knew nothing about this event,” said Chuck Cox, chairman of the Preserve Serra High Committee.

Advocates of keeping the name say they didn’t have a chance to give input and are asking the board to consider starting the process over to allow for more public comment.

“They held a virtual hearing to vote to change the name,” said Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna. “No one from the community knew about this hearing. The hearing took place basically in secret.”

The district disagrees. In a statement to FOX 5, the district said students approached Serra High School staff with the proposal.

“Together, students and school staff launched an extensive community input campaign,” the district said.

That community input effort included:

  • Public virtual town halls over a period of four months;
  • Social media engagement and content sharing to inform the community of name change efforts;
  • Involvement of local and national media outlets to inform the community of name change efforts, resulting in significant coverage; and
  • A formal ballot vote where all students received a paper ballot, parents/guardians and the large alumni network were emailed digital ballots, including alumni from the first graduating class.

Earlier this year, Emma Taila, one of the students who started the petition, told FOX 5 that the idea was not to “erase history” or “pretend like it didn’t happen.” But she argued that having the school named after Serra inappropriately celebrates his legacy.

“A lot of people make the argument Serra had good intentions — of course, we don’t know that for sure because all of our accounts are from a Spanish perspective — but our view is that he was complicit in the mission system that killed and enslaved a lot of native people,” Taila said. “And we can’t just go around honoring everyone who had good intentions with a high school name, especially if they caused so much damage.”

Attorneys at LiMandri & Jonna say a lawsuit will be filed Wednesday, intended to serve as an injunction to stop the process of renaming the school.

“Government cannot show hostility toward religion or preference for one religion or another or cannot show hostility to anyone religion,” attorney Charles LiMandri said.

The school district has not said whether it will consider starting the renaming process again.

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