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Marin school district changes ‘Dixie’ name tied to Confederacy

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New name for 155-year old school yet to be decided

The original Dixie schoolhouse.
The original Dixie Schoolhouse.
Photo by SanFranMan59/Wikicommons

The five-person board of Marin County’s Dixie School District voted Tuesday to a ceasefire in the longstanding public argument about its contentious name, declaring that both the district and San Rafael’s Dixie Elementary School will adopt a new, unspecified moniker in time for classes next fall.

Parents and students alike have argued for decades about the Dixie name, which dates back to the Civil War.

The two North Bay camps sparring over the name disagree about its origins; the grassroots group Change The Name alleges that Marin County settler James Miller picked the Dixie name on a dare to see if it would rile up Union supporters in the area.

However, the competing We Are Dixie campaign promotes the theory that the school and its district were named for a local family surnamed Dixie—specifically, their 19th century ancestor Mary Dixie, a member of the Miwok tribe.

In 2018, the Dixie board decided to put the name change up to a public vote in 2020, a move that failed to quiet community agitation.

The board voted down 13 different propositions to change the name in February—not because trustees preferred “Dixie” (most testified they did not) but because they weren’t sure any of the newly proposed names had enough community support.

At Tuesday’s special meeting, trustees voted 3-1 in favor of a resolution “selecting a new name for our district and selecting a new name for Dixie Elementary School by August 22, 2019, contingent on no district funds being used and a community committee presenting the board with name proposals.”

A cost analysis estimated that the name change would run almost $40,000, but outside groups have pledged to cover the expenses.

Only Board President Brad Honsberger voted against change, stating that he opposed the process and the tone of the campaigns.

“I refuse to be bullied, pressured, or threatened into making a decision for our community,” says Honsberger, insisting that the district should stick with the previous plan to let residents vote next year instead.

Board Vice President Alissa Chacko abstained from the vote, with three trustees voting yes.

Other trustees also complained about the full-throated arguing. Board member Megan Hutchinson noted, “We’ve all gotten emails from people weaponizing this, people saying I’ll never donate again.” She went on to note that threats came from both sides of the debate.

Students from Dixie Elementary were among those who spoke at the meeting demanding change, along with former Dixie students who brandished signs with slogans like “Dixie Is Racist.”

Kerry Pierson, the Marin County resident who first proposed the name change in 1997, was on hand as well.

“Here we are in 2019, up against it again,” said Pierson during public comment, adding, “I hope you change it tonight, but if you don’t I’ll be back.”

For a blow-by-blow account of the debate, check out the Marin Independent Journal’s live tweet stream here.