PPS to create procedures for renaming schools, mascots
Sparked by a long-running complaint from a group of Franklin High School parents, the Portland Public Schools board is looking to develop policies and procedures on the renaming of schools and mascots.
The move could have implications across the city as conversations continue over controversial namesakes — from Woodrow Wilson High School to Harvey Scott K-8 School. Several of the city's approximately 80 schools are named after local or national historical figures with controversial track records. (Critics say President Wilson was racist and Scott, The Oregonian editor from 1866-1872, was anti-suffragist.)
See previous coverage: What's in a name? Too much, teacher says
Later this month, the Humboldt Neighborhood Association is hosting a community discussion of the propriety of the name of North Portland's Thomas Jefferson High School. Since 2012, the association has opposed the use of the names of slave-owners and those "who did not respect equal opportunity for all" for public institutions.
The Franklin Quakers
Mia Pisano, a Franklin parent who is a practicing Quaker, said she has organized for six school years to change the name of Franklin High School's mascot or nickname, the Quakers. Pisano feels that there are many reasons why it is inappropriate for a religious term to be used for Franklin High School's teams, snack shop and other school spirit activities.
"The use of the name of any religion in this manner by a public school sends several subtle messages," Pisano said. She feels that it shows a group is free to appropriate the name of another group, and that non-Christian people may feel less welcome.
Pisano is joined by five other Franklin parents on a formal complaint to the district this fall. The new superintendent recommended to the board in a Dec. 14 letter that district policy be reviewed.
Franklin High School is named after founding father Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Quaker but was Pennsylvanian. The University of Pennsylvania's mascot is the Quaker and somehow the name stuck more than a century ago, according to the Franklin parents' complaint. The group suggests other names could be more representative of Franklin's legend: the Inventors, Diplomats, Lightning or Kite-Fliers, for example.
"What the superintendent is finding is there's not anything in our policy that would provide for review of a mascot change," said school board chair Julia Brim-Edwards at a Friday board policy task force meeting.
However, Pisano disagreed, saying that the current policy already disallows the use of religious terms for school property.
"Unless the district has policy allowing the names of religions to be used, we feel it was never allowed," she said, adding that she believes the term cannot be separated from its religious meaning.
Brim-Edwards directed the PPS legal office to research the Quaker name and write appropriate policy language for conducting reviews of public names. This could be borrowed from similar recent name review efforts at Oregon State University and University of Oregon, she said.
"I think it's a good discussion to have. I think many of the names we take for granted because that's what they've always been named," Brim-Edwards said, adding: "It'll be important to have a policy that we can use as the right filter for that discussion."
The group of Franklin parents agreed to suspend their complaint to give the new administrators time to work out the details. The district has had significant administrative turnover in recent years, which is part of why the process has taken this long.
"It is somewhat tragic-comic how many back-and-forths this process has had so far," said Franklin parent Chris Myers.
But board member Rita Moore said she wants to be sure the policy process is done before summer vacation so the community has a chance to participate in debating a name change.
The Humboldt Neighborhood Association discussion on Jefferson High School's name will be Jan. 29 from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. upstairs at the North Portland Library, 512 N Killingsworth St.