Posted on September 7, 2018

Packed House Weighs In on Dixie School District Name Change

Keri Brenner, Marin Independent Journal, September 5, 2018

{snip} a mostly white Marin school district thousands of miles west has joined the fray due to its Civil War-era name: Dixie.

Some say a name that is linked with not only the South but also the Confederacy sends a confusing and racially charged message to students and adults who don’t understand why it exists in California. Others say it has been that way since a pioneer named John Miller named the tiny Dixie Elementary School building in 1864 and there is no reason to spend the time, effort and money to change it.

On Tuesday, more than 20 people aired passionate statements on both sides of the issue at a meeting of the district’s board of trustees.

“We’re a majority-white district, in a majority-white county,” Christopher Rieder, a music teacher in the Dixie School District, said Tuesday before the packed meeting at the district’s office in Terra Linda in north San Rafael. “If we can offer understanding on this issue, it would send a powerful message to our students and neighbors.

“When our sisters and brothers who are people of color talk about the harm done to them, we need to sit with that, and make a change,” he added.

Others, however, say they don’t want any Dixie district tax dollars going for changing the name. They say it is a poor use of finances that should be allocated for student assistance programs, such as anti-vaping or enforcing appropriate dress codes.

“The reason we voted for all the parcel taxes (in the past and one earlier this year) is that we had the feeling that the Dixie school board are very good stewards of our tax money,” said Jessica Freilich, whose children graduated from district schools. “But I have to tell you, if you guys spend one thin dime on this ridiculously stupid proposal, I’m going to have to question whether you really need that money the next time you come up with another parcel tax.”


The recent effort so far includes a website at, a broadcast interview, myriad inflammatory posts on the online blog Nextdoor and the explosive and sometimes contentious meeting on Tuesday. After more than 90 minutes of testimony, district Superintendent Jason Yamashiro said he will arrange to have state education code experts present at either the Sept. 25 or early October board meeting to explain the legal process for a name change {snip}.


Paul Brunell, a district parent, said he leans progressive politically, but he is against the name change because he believes the issue is dividing the community with hate and discord.


Kerry Peirson of Mill Valley, who was present Tuesday but did not address the board, said later he sees more of a compassionate and caring mood now than when he first raised the issue in 1997. At a heated meeting in the district during that time, as the only African-American person there, Peirson said he was called a “gorilla” and had to ask an Independent Journal reporter to help him escape before violence took place. He later received death threats.


Other speakers on Tuesday were upset that Peirson and Noah Griffin of Tiburon, who both live in Marin but outside the district, were getting involved.


Tamela Fish of San Rafael arrived at the meeting with printed signs saying “Change the Name.” She said other schools, such as Saint Mark’s, have changed their name to Mark Day, with no negative impact. Dixie School District has approximately 3 percent African-American students, according to testimony at the meeting.