SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) — The Dixie School District in the California city of San Rafael has voted against changing its name that some say is linked to the Confederacy and slavery but agreed to revisit the issue later.
The school board voted Tuesday night after more than five hours of public testimony in favor and against changing the name of the 150-year-old district that name change opponents say came from a Native American woman, Mary Dixie.
Those pushing for the district to pick a new name from 13 options submitted by residents say the district got its name after a dare by Confederate sympathizers.
The issue generated weeks of heated online debate between parents in the overwhelmingly white city of 59,000 north of San Francisco, with some insisting the Dixie name is racially insensitive and others arguing that the call for a name change represented political correctness run amok.
A majority of board members said they supported changing the name, but that the process seemed rushed and needed more community input, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The board said it will decide on the process for a name change at its next meeting.
Dixie is a nickname for the southern U.S. states in the pro-slavery Confederacy. The legacy of the Confederacy has sparked political, legal and cultural battles, particularly in the South.
The four-school district has about 1,700 students. It was founded in 1864, making it one of the oldest districts in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
James Miller donated land for the first schoolhouse. Those who support changing the name say the district was named Dixie by Miller on a dare by Confederate sympathizers. Those who oppose the change say the school system was named for Dixie, a Miwok Indian woman that Miller knew in the 1840s.
Marge Grow Eppard, a member of the Miwok tribe who said her family name is Dixie, told the board Tuesday that she "did not realize my family's name was so offensive," ''I don't see no Confederate flags here ... You're going to change Mary Dixie's name, you dishonor all of us."
Patrick Nissim, who attended district schools, said he did not "subscribe to the idea that everyone who wants to keep the name is racist."
He added: "But changing the name is not an indictment of this district. Changing the name is simply the next free chapter of this district's history — it is a lesson in empathy."
Opponents have also said that the school board agreed in November to put the name-change issue to a nonbinding community vote in 2020 and that it should stick with that decision.
Among the names the board was asked to consider were "Marie Dixie Elementary School District" and "Skywalker Elementary School District."
Board President Brad Honsberger urged speakers at the meeting to remain diplomatic.
"The political world these days seems charged and disrespectful, including hateful comments and blaming others," Honsberger said. "Dixie has the opportunity to demonstrate how discourse can be respectful, courteous and accepting."