After renewed cry for change, LBUSD reconvenes committee to examine school names

Following a public push to rebrand campuses like Jordan and Wilson high schools, the Long Beach Unified School District is reconvening a committee to identify campuses for renaming and suggest alternatives.

“Names and symbols are important,” Board of Education Member Juan Benitez said after a unanimous vote by the board to move ahead with the plan. “I want to encourage as many people in our community as possible to engage in the process. We have schools that were named after folks who were racist, simple as that. Who were sexist, simple as that.”

Committee members haven’t been selected yet, but they will start deliberating some time in the fall. This is the second time in recent memory the district has asked for such input. In 2015, a committee identified schools for renaming including Lee Elementary, named after confederate general Robert E. Lee.

The committee also came up with a list of possible names for new schools or schools getting a rebrand. For example, Lee Elementary was renamed after Olivia Nieto Herrera, a Long Beach activist.

Leading up to the board’s decision Wednesday night, there’d been an abundance of lobbying through petitions, Op-eds and social media for (and against) renaming schools like Wilson and Jordan. Advocates for the change cite Woodrow Wilson’s well-documented racism and David Starr Jordan’s embrace of eugenics.

“We need to have hard conversations,” said Board Member Megan Kerr. “I see this through a different lens (than 2015) that requires much more intentional and intensive work about the ‘why.’”

The board didn’t name any specific schools Wednesday.

However, Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert wrote a letter to LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker last week advocating that Jordan High be named after current Board Member Felton Williams, who represents the Poly High area of the district.

After long comments from Benitez and Kerr, Williams appeared frustrated with the amount of time they’d spent discussing the issue during a marathon meeting that lasted more than five hours, “Let me see if I can get a word in here, Jesus Christ,” he said.

Williams weighed in broadly on the topic, saying school naming should be tied into the district’s recently adopted equity policy. “That will be an important part of looking at this strategically as a bigger process,” he said.

Baker stressed that the Board would have final say over all decisions and also acknowledged that the district has more immediate concerns like dealing with an abrupt shift to online learning because of the coronavirus.

“As much as we’d like to be working on this, this cannot be a priority in front of our student needs,” she said.

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