Central Unified’s School Board will once again try to bridge the community divide over the renaming of the neighborhood school formerly known as James K. Polk Elementary.
The results of a recent district survey show that there is still strong support in the community for maintaining Polk’s name on the school, even though the trustees shot that down at their last board meeting.
Polk Elementary School, with 259 responses, was the No. 1 name listed among the 758 survey responses.
The second-highest was Maria Moreno Elementary, with 177 responses. Maria Moreno was the first woman farmworker employed as a labor organizer in the U.S., and her nomination was made by Malachi Suarez, an incoming sixth grader whose fourth-grade GATE project on Polk’s racist history as a slave owner sparked the movement to rename his school.
Fifty-two survey respondents want to keep the original name of James K. Polk Elementary, and nine suggested Polk Avenue Elementary.
Twenty-seven heeded the call of local radio station talk show hosts who advocated naming the school Margaret Mims Elementary, in honor of the county’s retiring sheriff.
A battle has erupted on social media, where Gina Sellers, a parent who tore down Malachi’s poster on Polk at his school and later apologized for her action, told a Facebook group for the Central Unified community that Maria Moreno’s name was “mass marketed by one parent to activists and other organizations outside our district.”
Sellers’ post included the results of the survey, which are on Tuesday’s board agenda.
Malachi’s father, Gabriel Suarez, wants the board to consider a letter about Moreno and her contributions as a labor activist that was written by Dr. Vicki L. Ruiz, Distinguished Professor Emerita of History and Chicano/Latino Studies at UC Irvine, as well as Malachi’s petition on change.org to rename the school that as of midday Monday had 3,777 signatures.
Both Sellers and Gabriel Suarez had served on a board subcommittee that reviewed the district’s school names and mascots and then submitted a number of recommendations. The district also surveyed the community and held task force meetings to get community input.
Even though the board directed the district to survey the community, trustees don’t always abide by the results. An earlier survey on renaming Polk Elementary got overwhelming responses to keep James K. Polk’s name, but the board voted 5-2 last month to strip his name from the school. The board also voted against naming the school Polk Elementary — after the street it resides on.
So even though Polk, James K. Polk, and Polk Avenue, “Lion Polk,” and “Polkinley” received the most nominations combined at 322, the trustees seem unlikely to restore Polk’s name.
A motion last month by board President Richard Solis to name the school Central Elementary, in honor of the district’s upcoming centennial, died for the lack of a second. Central Elementary totaled six nominations in the survey, half as many as Donald J. Trump Elementary and Dolores Huerta Elementary, which got 12 apiece.
Might the school district follow the lead of the New York City school system, which uses a numbering system as well as naming many schools? There are two nominations for Public School 1 on the survey list.
The School Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday and will be held at Central East High School in the Performing Arts Center.