Palo Alto School District Board Wants to Explore Renaming Middle Schools Named for Eugenicists

Palo Alto Unified School District board members unanimously agreed Tuesday that a committee should be formed to explore changing the names of schools with names that some parents believe are offensive.

Jordan Middle School parent Lars Johnsson gave a 15-minute presentation to the board asking for the school to be renamed and cited support from the Jordan Middle School PTA. Jordan Middle is named after David Starr Jordan, a leader in the eugenics movement and supporter of sterilization and racial inequality.

"Names matter," said PAUSD board president Heidi Emberling. "I’m in full support of creating this committee and looking at all the names at once."

Johnsson started a petition late last year which now has over 340 signatures. 

Following Johnsson’s presentation, his son Kobi Johnsson, a Jordan Middle School student, made his way to the podium. Kobi’s seventh grade book report prompted his dad to start the petition to rename the school.

Indiana University
Historic photo of David Starr Jordan.

"Many students who go to the school today would have been sterilized if Jordan and the eugenics movement got their way," said Johnsson. "I would have been sterilized if Jordan and the eugenics movement got their way."

At least nine parents, teachers, students and community members asked the board to consider renaming Jordan Middle School. Parents from Terman Middle School and Cubberly Middle School asked for their schools to be renamed as well, as namesakes Lewis Terman and Ellwood Patterson Cubberly were also supporters of eugenics.

"If we're going to put someone’s name on a school, it has to be someone that believed in the value and the worth and the potential of every student at the school district," said a Terman Middle School parent.

One parent suggested keeping the name Jordan by renaming the school after former U.S. House of Representative member Barbara Jordan, the first southern black female elected to the House.

All five board members responded to the presentation and public comments in favor of forming a committee to explore the renaming process.

Board members Townsend and Baten Caswell said long term Palo Alto residents should be on the renaming committee, and that committee should research the namesakes of all schools in the district so that any unfavorable names can be addressed at one time. All board members agreed student and parent voice should be included as well.

An official decision will be made at the Jan. 26 board meeting.

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