Palo Alto

Palo Alto Unified School District Votes to Rename Two Middle Schools

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to rename Jordan and Terman middle schools.

Each campus was named after David Starr Jordan and Lewis Terman, respectively, who were leaders in the eugenics movement. The movement sought to improve human genetics through sterilization and by discouraging reproduction by people with undesirable traits, such as race and class.

"Jordan died 85 years ago. But unconscious bias didn't," trustee Jennifer DiBrienza. "The rights of a marginalized body should not be put up for a popular vote."

The room inside the district office was completely filled by community members as the board verbalized the vote. Roughly 20 students sat on the floor in front of the board during their lunch break to listen to the discussion before returning to class.

“Although it may seem many adults in the community may air on the side of not changing the name, current students are overwhelmingly in favor of changing the names of the schools,” said Ankit Ranian, Gunn High School student board member.

He said while students were concerned about cost, majority are more concerned about the message these names communicate.

“I know many students felt that if this didn’t happen that it would be an implicit endorsement of the racist and unfair policies that these people after whom the schools got their name endorsed.”

All five board members acknowledged the overwhelming community input they have received via emails, calls and meeting attendance from people feel passionately about both changing the names and keeping them the same. Members said “nostalgia” would penetrate the hearts of many school alumni and community members because of the name change.

Board member Todd Collins said the board received over 400 emails from community members about the issue. Roughly two thirds of the emails were in favor of a name change.

Family members of Lewis Terman attended the meeting and are not fully supportive of the name change.

“I think it’s fundamentally unnecessary,” said Jim Terman, Lewis Terman’s great-grandson. "He didn't spend 100 percent of his time promoting eugenics. This has more to do with current climate than anything else."

Terry Terman, grandson of Lewis Terman, said the school should keep the Terman name. Instead of being named after Lewis, it should be named for his son Frederick Terman, who is widely credited as the “father of Silicon Valley” and is not associated with eugenics.

“I’m cool with them renaming as long as it has been renamed to Frederick Terman Middle School,” Terry Terman said. Terry is the middle son of Frederick Terman.

The Renaming Schools Advisory Committee mentioned in its official report to the board that Frederick Terman’s legacy is often tangled with the legacy of his father Lewis. The committee, which recommended the board change the school names, wrote “Frederick does not appear to have disavowed his father’s eugenics doctrines and activities, neither does he appear to have publicly advanced them.”

Board members Collins, Dauber and Godfrey all expressed Frederick Terman’s legacy seemed to be unfairly associated with his father’s, and they would support making Frederick a namesake.

The Renaming Committee estimates a cost of over $200,000 for new signs, repainting gym floors, team uniforms and other expenses.

District Superintendent Max McGee said the Strong Schools bond funds, which has already been passed, includes language that allows for changing of signage and other costs that could be applied.

“I want to make it very clear that any cost involved would not be a trade-off between programs and services we have. We would not be taking away existing personnel because of any cost associated with the renaming of schools,” said McGee. “This is not a zero sum game.”

Palo Alto resident Lars Johnsson started a petition to rename the schools in 2015 after his son completed a report about David Starr Jordan, who was Stanford University's first president.

The board will design a plan to move forward with renaming at a later meeting.

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