Dixie School District in Marin County to change name

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SAN RAFAEL — The Dixie School District board voted Tuesday night to change the name of the 150-year-old district after critics linked it to the Confederacy and slavery.

Trustees voted 3-1, with one abstention, to change both the name of the Marin County district and the name of its elementary school by Aug. 22, when classes resume.

However, the board didn’t choose a new name. A committee made up of parents, other community members and district staff will be set up to solicit and evaluate suggestions from the public.

The board rejected some 15 names in February when it voted against a name-change on grounds that more community input was needed.

The cost of the name change, such as replacing signs, was estimated at nearly $40,000, but the Marin Community Foundation pledged to cover it.

Dixie is a nickname for the southern U.S. states that formed the pro-slavery Confederacy in 1860, sparking the Civil War. The legacy of the Confederacy prompts political, legal and cultural conflicts to this day.

Those who support changing the name say the district was named Dixie by James Miller, the school founder, on a dare by Confederate sympathizers. Those who oppose the change say the school system was named for Mary Dixie, a Miwok Indian woman that Miller knew in the 1840s.

The name-change issue has generated heated debate in overwhelmingly white San Rafael, with some insisting the Dixie name is racially insensitive while others complain the proposed change is political correctness run amok.

Both sides spoke out during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“You know Dixie is a racist name, so change it,” said Bali Simon, a fifth-grader at Dixie Elementary School. “I’m hoping I can go back to school next fall proud of our new district name.”

An opponent of the name change, Mette Nygard, said the “ugly insinuations” tarnished Miller’s reputation.

“The community is so far removed from the confederacy that it’s a ridiculous assertion,” Nygard said.

However, she was interrupted by demonstrators chanting “Dixie must go!” Critics of the current name also brought signs into the room that said “say no to racism.”

Some of the proposed names that were previously rejected by the board included “Marie Dixie Elementary School District” and “Skywalker Elementary School District.”

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