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Community opinions vary on proposal to name school for Christine Kehoe

SAN DIEGO, California -- About 40 people attended a community forum Wednesday night at Florence Elementary School in Hillcrest to discuss a proposal to rename that school for former state Sen. Christine Kehoe.

In the crowd were members of the local LGBT community who are supporters of the proposal, and parents and school volunteers from Florence who had questions and concerns.

The proposal to rename the school was brought forward by the GLBT Historical Task Force, chaired by longtime community activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez. After opening remarks from Moises Aguirre, the district relations director for San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), Murray-Ramirez addressed the crowd and read a statement of support for the proposal from his task force.

In the letter, Murray-Ramirez described Kehoe’s political path and long history of support for the local community.

“Christine dedicated her life for a better city for us all,” Murray-Ramirez said.

To explain why the task force proposed Florence Elementary as the site for the renaming, Murray-Ramirez said that not only is the school in the heart of San Diego’s LGBT community and what was Kehoe’s City Council district from 1993 to 2000, but that the school has displayed for many years visible signs of its respect for diverse communities. Artwork colors the school’s fencing along University Avenue with words such as “love,” “diversity” and "equality.”

Letters of support for the proposal were also read from elected officials: Congresswoman Susan Davis, California Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins, County Supervisor Dave Roberts, and City Council President Todd Gloria. Representatives from the Hillcrest Business Association, The San Diego LGBT Community Center, GSDBA and DOD FED GLOBE also read letters of support from their organizations.

Not all of the community members in attendance at the meeting were supportive of the proposal, however. A group of parents and school volunteers were in attendance, and some of them spoke, mostly sharing their frustration with the process.

“I’m unhappy with how the process has not included the Florence school community,” said Caren Holtzman, who lives near the school and has a child who attended Florence.

Nicole Blazey, a parent who has volunteered at Florence for four years, said she was upset because she didn’t even hear about the proposal or the community meeting until the day of.

“Parents weren’t informed. We feel out of the loop,” Blazey said.

She also said told the crowd that a large percentage of families who attend Florence are low income and questioned who would bear the costs of changing out the mandatory school uniforms, which currently say “Florence” on them and other considerations.

It is unclear who was responsible for notifying the community of students, parents, teachers, and volunteers at Florence about the proposal and meeting, but announcements about the meeting were seen in local LGBT publications including San Diego Gay & Lesbian News and on Facebook.

After nearly an hour of public comment, Murray-Ramirez spoke again to say he was shocked to learn that the Florence community was not informed about the process, and share his “sincere apologies.” Murray-Ramirez encouraged dialogue among backers of the proposal and the Florence community and promised to make sure that all stakeholders were included in the process.

Aguirre of SDUSD closed out the meeting and explained that this meeting was the first of many steps in the process. He noted that there will be several more community and stakeholder meetings before the proposal goes up before the school board for a vote. He did not give details on a timeline.