Debate to begin over Jordan Middle School name change

Seventy years after David Starr Jordan Middle School was christened, Burbank residents will have input on whether the institution should change its name. The Burbank Unified naming facilities committee will meet at district headquarters and hold talks on whether to drop Jordan.
(Tim Berger/Burbank Leader)

Seventy years after David Starr Jordan Middle School was christened, Burbank residents will provide input on whether the institution should change its name because of questions surrounding the man it’s named after.

Burbank Unified’s naming-facilities committee will meet for the first time at 6 p.m. Thursday at district headquarters for the first public discussion on whether to keep or drop Jordan as the local middle school’s namesake.

The headquarters is located at 1900 W. Olive Ave. Burbank.

“The issue came before the school board earlier this year, said John Paramo, the district’s director of secondary education. “The committee should not be focused on, ‘what should we name it’ or on hearing from the community different suggestions on what to name the school,” Paramo said.

“That’s completely premature. What was asked for at the meeting was, ‘Can you meet as a group and decide whether or not the school name should be changed based on some of the stuff that David Starr Jordan did when he was alive?’” he added.

The middle school, which has 1,042 students and was founded in 1948, is named for scientist and educator David Starr Jordan, who died in 1931.

Jordan was famous for helping found Stanford University and became its first chancellor. He was also a supporter of eugenics, a system of controlled breeding and separation of certain people to increase the chances for desirable heritable characteristics.

Those views were embraced by Adolf Hitler and even implemented in California.

University of Vermont associate professor historian Lutz Kaelber estimated roughly 20,000 people in California deemed undesirable were forcibly sterilized until 1964 due to eugenics policies. Most were sterilized because they were believed to be mentally ill or mentally deficient.

The local committee is tasked with providing a recommendation to school board members on whether to change the school’s name or keep it.

Members of the public who want to make a statement will be given five minutes to speak.

Should the group decide on a recommendation, the board will have an opportunity to vote on the matter at its next meeting on Dec. 20.

However, if the committee does not reach an agreement by Dec. 20, additional meetings will be scheduled, school officials said.

If a name change is recommended and approved by the board, then the process to find a new name would begin.

The path toward the discussion on Thursday officially got underway on May 19 when Jordan parent Laura Jimenez asked district officials to consider renaming the school.

Burbank Unified’s board finalized the process for a naming-facilities committee on Aug. 16.

After a period during which the board accepted committee applications, members were announced on Sept. 20.

Selected to be on the committee were school board members Steve Frintner and Charlene Tabet, residents Elena Hubbell and Gerrard Panahon, parent Jimenez, district employee Dana Ragle, student Ixchel Sanchez Jimenez, Jordan principal Jennifer Meglemre, and Paramo.

Resident Connie Lackey, parent Gayle Kolodny Cole and student Emerson Coblentz were chosen as alternates.

“We realize it’s going to be an emotional issue, a passionate issue, and I think the way to try to deal with that is to make sure you’re deliberate, transparent, and we give everyone a chance to get their voices heard,” Frintner said in August.

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