Stanford Middle School teacher Hank Waddles stands in his classroom in Long Beach on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

A well-known Stanford Middle School English teacher is publicly calling on the Long Beach Unified School District to once again consider renaming campuses currently named after racist historical figures.

Of the 72 Long Beach Unified School District schools named after people, 20 of them bear the names of problematic figures from the past, teacher Hank Waddles said during the public comment period of the Oct. 18 school board meeting.

Six of those schools are named after men who enslaved African Americans, Waddles said, and others honor men who carried out atrocities. He pointed specifically to Fremont Elementary School, which honors John C. Fremont, a 19th-century politician and explorer who led multiple massacres, murdering over 1,000 Indigenous people in California.

More than a third of the district’s students attend classes in those 20 buildings, said Waddles, who has been with the district for 33 years.

“This is what we mean when we speak of systemic racism,” Waddles said of the school names.

This isn’t the first time the LBUSD has been urged to consider renaming some of its schools. In 2015, a committee was formed to identify schools for renaming, which prompted the district to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary.

Efforts were reignited in 2020 when some residents called for the renaming of schools such as Woodrow Wilson High School and Jordan High School, which is named for the prominent eugenicist David Starr Jordan.

In this file photo, Wilson High School students walk out of the school’s gates for lunch on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Photo by Stephen Carr.

In response, the school board voted to reconvene the naming committee, but, as Superintendent Jill Baker acknowledged at the time, the district had other pressing matters to deal with, including the abrupt shift to online learning due to the pandemic.

Even though the school board had voted to start the process, COVID-19 put “a pause in the school renaming effort,” LBUSD spokesperson Elvia Cano said in an email.

Now, however, Cano said, “Long Beach Unified plans to engage our School Naming Committee and consider any necessary next steps as described in the Board’s School Naming Policy.”

The policy, adopted in 2015, states that a citizen advisory committee shall be appointed by the superintendent to prepare and review school name suggestions and submit recommendations for the Board of Education’s consideration.

If the Board of Education or superintendent determines the need to rename a school, an item will be placed on a Board of Education meeting agenda and information about the meeting will be provided to the impacted school community.

The district did not make any board members available for an interview about whether they support the idea of renaming more schools.

For Waddles, he was inspired to restart the conversation a couple of weeks ago, when reading about Woodrow Wilson.

The former president had shown the 1915 film “The Birth of the Nation,” linked to a rise in support of the Ku Klux Klan, in the White House, and had also made several comments glorifying the KKK.

“It just really struck me that this is a district that, I believe, is doing its best to move forward in terms of equity and inclusion,” Waddles said in an interview. “We’ve made a ton of efforts … but there’s still Wilson High School.”

Waddles said he made a list of every school in the district, and some of the names immediately stood out, but as Waddles began to look into others, numerous other problematic figures emerged.

And for some prominent figures, such as George Washington, only part of their story is recognized, Waddles said.

“Whether the district chooses to rename Washington Middle School, I don’t know, but at some point, there has to be a reckoning, there has to be someplace on that campus. There has to be something that indicates that he also enslaved servants,” Waddles said.

During last week’s board meeting, Waddles urged the district to create a committee of administrators, teachers, students and community members to identify which historical figures are currently honored and recommend which names should be removed.

Waddles said he anticipates some pushback from community members who feel emotionally tied to the current institutions, but he’s hopeful that the LBUSD will move forward with the process.

“I’m walking the world as a Black man in America. I have to think about this history, because this history is a part of who I am, right?” Waddles said. “It’s a privilege to then say, ‘Well, why do we worry about it? Why does it matter what the name of the school is?’ Because it sends a message to the students who are sitting in those classrooms.”

“We’re putting forth this idea that we are pushing for equity for every student, but if we really are, this is what we have to do,” he said.