Group sues San Diego Unified over high school name change

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SAN DIEGO – A group of Tierrasanta residents filed suit Wednesday against the San Diego Unified School District and one its principals over a decision to rename Junípero Serra High School, arguing the move was one of “erasure and anti-Catholic bigotry” while leaving the community out of the process.

The district’s board voted in March to rebrand Serra High as Canyon Hills High School, changing the school’s mascot from the Conquistadors to the Rattlers. It was a move coming in response to a student-led petition calling for the change on the basis of righting a wrong from a brutal period in California’s history.

But some advocates recently have come out in favor of keeping the Serra name and are asking the district to reconsider the change.

The suit was filed by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society on behalf of a group of residents known as “Preserve Serra High.” In a news release about the filing, attorney Charles LiMandri said the name change was “another example of the ‘cancel culture’ mentality that radical leftist people in education are trying to force on an unwilling American public.”

“Father Serra was a great defender of the indigenous people of California, and he deserves our best efforts to defend his legacy,” LiMandri said.

They argue in the suit that Serra High School Principal Erica Renfree used student activists to “not only remove the Conquistador as their mascot, but also erase Serra’s name and memory from the school premises.” It alleges the district’s board violated citizens’ rights in renaming the school and doing so without giving the public “insufficient notice” of their intentions.

The lawsuit notes that public polling of school stakeholders did not support the name change.

According to one poll, about 57% of students said the school’s name was “fine the way it is.” Another poll of about 1,200 people supported keeping some form of the name, including shortening it to “Serra High School.”

Students alleged that honoring Serra ignores California history where Spanish conquerors killed millions of indigenous people. The effort helped Serra establish the mission system, which assimilated indigenous people to Catholicism and Spanish culture, furthering Spanish colonization and erasing existing traditions in the region.

The district on Tuesday told FOX 5 that students and school staff “launched an extensive community input campaign” before voting on the name change.

That effort included hosting virtual town halls over a period of four months, engaging on social media, discussing the potential change in local and national news outlets and providing a formal ballot vote provided to all students, parents and an alumni network.

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