The board held the vote after students at the school petitioned to have Serra’s name removed because of his treatment of Native Americans, according to FOX 5 in San Diego.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs seeks to stop the process and have the district start over so the community can give more input.
“This is another example of the ‘cancel culture’ mentality that radical leftist people in education are trying to force on an unwilling American public,” attorney Charles LiMandri, whose law firm is involved in the lawsuit said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Father Serra was a great defender of the indigenous people of California, and he deserves our best efforts to defend his legacy.”
Serra, who lived from 1713 to 1784 and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, is known as the father of the California mission system.
The church reveres Serra for bringing Roman Catholicism to the Western United States but critics claim he forced Native Americans to give up their culture or face brutal punishment.
Serra is among dozens of historical figures who have been placed under the microscope in the last year amid anti-racism protests.
The school district plans to rename the Tierrasanta school Canyon Hills High.
Jonna said the board violated the Brown Act, which requires public notice of a vote along with California and Federal Due Process and Establishment Clauses, according to the Tribune.
“They held a virtual hearing to vote to change the name,” Jonna said, according to FOX 5. “No one from the community knew about this hearing. The hearing took place basically in secret.”
Chuck Cox, chairman of the Preserve Serra High Committee, claimed around 45,000 people in Tierrasanta, a neighborhood in northwest San Diego, didn’t know about the meeting.
Junipero Serra High School Principal Erica Renfree said all students and their parents were notified of the meeting and given the chance to weigh in, the Tribune reported.
The district said its community input campaign included virtual public town halls and engagement on social media and in the news, according to FOX 5.
A spokesman for the district told the Tribune they received plenty of letters from the district for and against the name change.
Emma Taila, a Junipero Serra student who petitioned to have the name changed, told FOX 5 she didn’t want to erase history but she didn’t think Serra deserved to have a school named after him.
“A lot of people make the argument Serra had good intentions — of course, we don’t know that for sure because all of our accounts are from a Spanish perspective — but our view is that he was complicit in the mission system that killed and enslaved a lot of native people,” she told the station. “And we can’t just go around honoring everyone who had good intentions with a high school name, especially if they caused so much damage.”
Jonna said, the principal’s actions “have pandered to a false and historically inaccurate narrative and have demonstrated an unconstitutional animus towards this Catholic saint,” the Tribune reported.
Attorney Charles LiMandri added, “Government cannot show hostility toward religion or preference for one religion or another or cannot show hostility to any one religion.”
Earlier this year, the San Francisco School Board reversed a controversial decision to rename dozens of schools because of historical figures deemed to be associated with oppression, including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.