After 90 minutes of passionate citizen testimony and board discussion, the Centennial School Board voted unanimously to rename Lynch View Elementary School. Going forward, it will be known as Patrick Lynch Elementary School.
Further, the board agreed to study renaming Lynch Wood and Lynch Meadows elementary schools. The board considered the name changes because of concern over the racial and violent overtones of the word "lynch."
The schools include the name Lynch to honor a family that donated an acre of land to the district for a school in 1900. But, some argued that as the district has become more racially diverse, some students and families felt unsafe in a building called "lynch."
More than 100 people gathered in the uncomfortably hot and stuffy Centennial High School cafeteria for the Wednesday, Aug. 9, school board meeting. The meeting had to be moved from the usual small room at district headquarters to the high school cafeteria because of the expected high attendance at the meeting caused by the controversy over the proposed name changes.
The all-volunteer school board allowed each side 15 minutes to give testimony. The clock ran out on both groups and several people on each side were not allowed to speak.
Comments flooded onto social media and into the school district after The Outlook and other news organizations reported on the potential name change. An overwhelming majority of the comments were opposed to the change. Many of the social media commenters said there was no racial connotation to the school names since they were named for Patrick and Catherine Lynch, who gave land to the district.
Dick Bertelsen, who spoke against the name change, said after the vote he had "mixed feelings" about the outcome. He was disappointed the board did not keep the name Lynch View Elementary.
On the other side, local activist and founder of the nonprofit community organization Troublesome Movement, Stephen Graves, said he was pleased by the vote and "glad that the board had a forward vision. We've got to move this city and town into now."
The Centennial district, like others in East Multnomah County, is becoming more racially diverse. About 10 percent of the students attending Centennial schools at the end of 2016 were black or multiracial. About 45 percent of students are white and the rest are Asian, Latino or other races.
After all the testimony, the board voted to rename Lynch View, 1546 S.E. 169th Place, and call it Patrick Lynch Elementary School.
The board decided Lynch Wood, 3615 S.E. 174th Ave., and Lynch Meadows Elementary School, 18009 S.E. Brooklyn St., "will now do business as Wood Elementary and Meadows Elementary while a team of district representatives, families and community members, with guidance from the Department of Justice, will form a committee to work on the renaming of these schools by the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Much of the public testimony drew cheers from each side's supporters. One man who opposed the name change told the board "I hope you can get off of this and get on to something more productive."
Bertelsen urged the board to consider this a teachable moment and not to lose the sense of "history, pride and ownership" in the district.
Another man who supported keeping the school names intact said "this has been an embarrassment to the staff, community and alumni as a whole."
Miguel Hernandez, a student at one of the schools spoke for the name change.
"If a simple name change can make students feel safe, then why are we holding back?" he asked.
Graves noted "the Gresham and southeast of the '50s, '60s and '70s is gone and it is never coming back. There is a new breed of student and they deserve to be proud of Centennial too."
Andrea Sande, principal of Butler Creek Elementary School and former principal of Lynch Wood said that as a white, middle class woman she had never thought much about the Lynch name. But an African American parent was deeply shaken by the word and Sande admitted "it made me feel sick. It did not need to be my reality for it to be true. It was true for her."
Board member Gloria Ngezaho said "if there is a single kid in our district that does not feel welcomed, then we have failed."
The district said in July "the Lynch school names have proven to be a disruption to the learning environment for our increasingly diverse student population." The move to drop the word "lynch" from the school names has been informally under discussion for well over a year. Other local institutions including parks, churches and businesses also have the word "lynch" in their name.
Centennial School Board meetings generally only draw a few members of the public, but this board meeting was attended by more than 100 community members, several television crews and even a police officer.
Centennial is not alone in considering name changes. Many schools, towns and agencies have changed names of buildings, natural features or teams and mascots to be more sensitive to racial issues and stereotypes.
For example, The Oregon Geographic Names Board identified 172 geographic features in Oregon named "squaw" and is systematically changing the names because of the offensive sexist and racial slur.
At the Aug. 9 meeting, the board considered three questions. Is having the Lynch name(s) on Centennial schools creating barriers between the district and families of color? Does the name have a negative impact on student's feelings about their school and their academic outcomes? Is there a win-win solution that honors students and families complaints while also honoring the Lynch family that donated the land to the District in 1900?
Board chair Shar Giard, who kept a tight rein on the often emotional proceedings, said "I believe all children should have an opportunity to learn in an equity-driven environment."