Photo by Stephanie Rivera. 

The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education recently approved the creation of a committee tasked with recommending school names after last month’s Charleston, South Carolina church shooting prompted local activists to criticize the school district for having a school named after Confederate war hero Robert E. Lee.

During a board meeting Monday evening, Superintendent Christopher Steinhouser said the ad hoc committee’s tasks will include vetting potential names for new schools, establishing a process for renaming existing schools and related costs, and review the name of all existing schools and make recommendations to the board.

“This is important to who we are,” board member Megan Kerr said during the meeting. “It’s important what our kids learn by example in terms of process, change, and making tough decisions.”

Only a fraction of the public that had signed up to speak on the issue was able to comment on the record, with most supporting the renaming of Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

Many offered potential candidates to replace the school’s name—recommending literary icon Harper Lee or Cambodian, African American and Latino leaders in order to better reflect the community’s cultural diversity.

City Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez shared her interest in renaming the school after the late local leader Jenny Oropeza—who was the first Latina member on the LBUSD Board of Education and the Long Beach City Council before becoming a member of the State Assembly and Senate.

“She was certainly an inspiration to me,” Gonzalez said. “She fought tirelessly for our community.”

Eric Boyd, the deputy district director for Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, read a letter from the congresswoman announcing her support to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary after Oropeza.

“You […] are perhaps more keenly aware than anyone of the outstanding history of public service rendered to Long Beach by this Latina legend,” Hahn said in the letter.

City Councilman Roberto Uranga also spoke before the board, focusing attention on the importance of creating a diverse committee.

“I do want to say, when you form this committee, that it be representative. That it reflects the community that we have,” Uranga said. “We know that Long Beach is more than 40 percent Latino, 13 percent African American, 13 percent Asian, and I hope that the committee reflects that diversity.”

Uranga said he served on the last renaming committee, where he was only one of two Latinos.

Board members did ask that school district officials comprise the committee out of teachers, administrators, students, parents and various community groups, and that clear guidelines be made on who to recommend.

School district officials hope to have the group start meeting by late August and come back with recommendations to the board in October.

The State Legislature is currently considering the Frederick Douglass Liberty Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, that would prohibit the use of an elected leader or senior military officer of the Confederate States of America to name state or local property and would require a name connected with the Confederacy to be changed. 

This story was updated at 2:30PM on July 22 with information on the Frederick Douglass Liberty Act.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.