Burbank Unified’s facilities-naming committee unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend renaming David Starr Jordan Middle School because of its namesake’s controversial writings on eugenics.
Burbank Unified school board members are expected to decide next month whether or not they agree with changing the school’s name.
Board members could then decide to select a new name on their own or reconvene the facilities-naming committee to come up with some options.
School board member Charlene Tabet, who heads the naming committee, said she felt compelled to change the school’s name after hearing from parents during the committee’s three public meetings on the matter and researching Jordan’s beliefs.
Jordan, who was the first chancellor of Stanford University, has become a controversial figure because of his support of eugenics, which endorses controlled breeding to rid society of physical and mental disabilities.
From 1910 up until 1964, roughly 20,000 people considered less-than-desirable, such as minorities and people with mental disabilities, were forcibly sterilized in California due, in part, to the eugenics philosophy.
“I understood where [Jordan] had been and what his viewpoints were, and I didn’t agree with that,” she said. “Tradition is wonderful and nice, but there is a concrete solid argument to do this.”
In addition to Tabet, the facilities-naming committee is made up of fellow school board member Steve Frintner, resident Gerrard Panahon, Jordan teacher Dana Ragle, Jordan principal Jennifer Meglemre, parents Gayle Kolodny Cole and Laura Jimenez, and district director of secondary education John Paramo.
Burbank Unified officials started looking at the district’s school names this past July in the wake of a national trend to remove public tributes to historical figures who held racist or other intolerant beliefs.
In March, the Palo Alto Unified school board renamed its middle school from David Starr Jordan to Frank S. Greene Jr., after an African American venture capitalist.
Burbank has 15 schools christened after white males, with the exceptions being Providencia Elementary, named after the school’s location, and Monterey High School for the street where the school is located.
Parent Erica Quiel is one of the proponents of the name change and said during the meeting she sees this process as a chance for the school district to name a school after a woman and/or person who isn’t white.
Whatever name local school officials select, it will likely take several years for district employees to fully phase out Jordan Middle School’s name, Paramo said. School business cards, letterhead and gym clothes can be changed fairly easily, but it will take time for school officials to raise money and install a new marquee and sign for the front of the school.
Parent Konstantine Anthony was in tears when the naming committee made its recommendation because he would have been a target for eugenicists because he is autistic. He’s been a fierce advocate for rights and access for the disabled as a member of the Burbank Advisory Council on Disabilities.
Even though his 6-year-old son, who is also autistic, will attend another middle school in the district, Anthony said the potential renaming offers an important lesson to stand up for what’s right.
“I hope he takes away two things — that everyone, including him, is worth being respected, and when there’s something wrong, you get your friends together and change it,” Anthony said.
Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.