The Palo Alto school board decided Tuesday night to postpone a vote to rename two middle schools until Friday, prompted by one trustee's concerns about deliberating on an important but non-urgent issue at a late hour, a concern that the full board ultimately agreed with.
The board will continue its discussion and take action this Friday, March 17, at 1 p.m. Four of the five board members — all except Todd Collins — said they plan to support renaming David Starr Jordan and Terman middle schools given their namesakes' leadership roles in the eugenics movement.
This supports a majority recommendation from a school district committee convened last year to research and make recommendations on renaming, and now, also from Superintendent Max McGee. McGee said Tuesday that Jordan's and Lewis M. Terman's promotion of eugenics is "antithetical" to the mission and goals of the district, telling the board that "names and symbols matter."
Earlier that day -- in a morning retreat on board protocols and operations -- the board discussed a suggestion Collins had raised at several previous meetings to adhere to a board bylaw stating meetings should end by 10 p.m. The bylaw states that "late night meetings deter public participation" and "can affect the board's decision-making ability."
Tuesday night, the decision at about 10:30 p.m. to delay the renaming vote came after about 50 comments from students, parents, alumni and community members who represented all sides of what has become an emotional, contentious topic.
Those who support renaming the schools reiterated pleas for the board to stand with the district's values of diversity, equity and inclusion and to send a strong message to current and future students, particularly those of color or with disabilities who would have been negatively impacted by eugenics.
"It's really just astounding that we're still talking about this," said Kobi Jonsson, who as a seventh-grade Jordan student wrote a book report on his school namesake that sparked a grassroots renaming campaign more than a year ago. "We need to be a champion of our values to show we really care about our community."
Those against it spoke of their strong ties to the schools they attended years ago and urged the board against severing those ties and "erasing the past" by giving the schools new names.
Carrie Hodge, a Jordan alumni, told the board that "it's kind of like losing a baby to take away a name."
A small group of parents also said that while they support renaming, they don't believe it's the right time to do so given a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall that is putting pressure on many district programs and efforts that, they argued, more directly impact students. Some even offered to donate money privately to fund renaming rather than use district dollars.
Vice President Ken Dauber noted that the board not only needs to vote in support or against the proposal to rename, but discuss complexities around process, including the number of advisory committees that should be created to recommend new names, how to best involve students and funding questions.
The committee estimated that while the total cost to rename both schools would be about $200,000, a phased-in approach could start at about $50,000. McGee recommended tapping a $6 million reserve fund set aside for opening new schools, which the district no longer plans to do in the near future, to pay for renaming.
Sara Armstrong, a parent-member of the Renaming Schools Advisory Committee, urged the board to give clear criteria to the group or groups tasked with coming up with new names that they cannot recommend anything that includes Jordan or Terman. Other committee members that oppose renaming have suggested compromise solutions, such as retaining Jordan but dropping "David Starr" or officially naming Terman after Lewis Terman's son, Frederick, an accomplished electrical engineer.
The committee and McGee have also recommended adding history on California and Palo Alto's roles in the eugenics movement to the secondary schools' curriculum next year.
This Friday's meeting will take place at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.
In other business Tuesday, the board discussed a new mathematics curriculum for the district's three middle schools, recommended by a district committee. While some board members asked for more information -- how teachers plan to address gaps in the curriculum identified by nonprofit evaluation group EdReports and how they will coordinate with a new elementary math textbook that has yet to be selected, among other requests -- they generally supported the committee's recommendation.
Trustees also decided to defer a vote on a proposed districtwide equity plan, asking Equity Coordinator Martha Castellon to do further revisions and come back at a later date.