Berkeley school board approves renaming of LeConte Elementary School

Xiaoye Yan/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District board unanimously approved a recommendation to rename LeConte Elementary School at its meeting Wednesday, after ongoing controversy surrounding the school’s namesake.

LeConte Elementary School was named after Joseph LeConte, a UC Berkeley geology, botany and natural sciences professor in the late 1800s. Along with his brother, LeConte owned more than 200 slaves, provided munitions for the Confederacy during the Civil War and frequently promoted theories of racial inferiority.

In May, the superintendent’s office received a petition signed by teachers and families from LeConte Elementary requesting that the district look into the appropriateness of the school’s name. At the meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Donald Evans provided the recommendation that the board approve the renaming of the school.

“I have the honor of watching our uniquely diverse community of parents and teachers work to support and embody a spirit of mutual cooperation and care, but all that we are trying to foster in our school is antithetical to what our school’s namesake, Joseph LeConte, believed in and promoted,” said LeConte PTA President Leah Martens during the meeting. “The children of LeConte deserve a school name they can take pride in.”

BUSD Director Karen Hemphill stated during the meeting that while she generally does not favor rushing to rename institutions, LeConte Elementary was a case in which the name no longer fit in the context of the changes occurring at the school.

“When it comes to this particular request to dename, I feel that it’s not just the current revisiting of some of the obsolete and hypocritical viewpoints that many of our founding fathers had, but we’re looking at a school that has really reinvented itself,” Hemphill said at the meeting. “It is now a Spanish immersion school and … the desire to change a name that is more in line with what the school’s mission is and philosophy is makes a lot of sense to me.”

The school must now undergo a process to determine a replacement name. A recommendation is expected to be brought to the board in April, and the approval of a new name is anticipated to come before the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Community members also spoke before the board during public comment regarding a California Public Records Act request by conservative group Judicial Watch. The group requested access to all documents and emails within the BUSD administration, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teachers and staff, with the words “Felarca,” “BAMN,” “Antifa” and “By All Means Necessary.” BUSD indicated in a statement Oct. 27 that it would be legally required to comply with the request.

To prevent BUSD from providing the documents, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teachers and staff members Yvette Felarca, Larry Stefl and Lori Nixon filed a lawsuit against BUSD and were granted a temporary restraining order by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria.

“What I’m hoping and imploring this district to do is to support the people you represent,” said Paul Kealoha-Blake, chair of the Berkeley Mental Health Commission and supporter of Felarca, during the meeting. “I would like to hear you representing us and our rights and our fears.”

Sydney Fix is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.

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  • diogenes

    Thank god America has the decisiveness to face and solve our really pressing problems and that Berkeley is always forging to the forefront.

    Now can we talk about our police death toll, higher every single year than all Europe’s over the last 25 years? And about our grotesque maldistribution of wealth? And about student debt-slavery? And our million homeless children and predatory shelter-serf system?

    • California Defender

      No! There is still a JV cheerleader squad somewhere named the Rebelettes.

      That must be our nation’s top priority!

      Besides, if the left stops getting distracted by these manufactured events of outrage, they might actually turn their attention to the things you speak of. Even worse, they might become… *gasp* populists!

      Can’t have that! Quick, find another statue to topple! Lee, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Seuss, Disney, whoever invented white chocolate… hurry!

  • California Defender

    Thanks Berkeley leftists! 👏👏👏

    Your removal of Joseph LeConte’s name from an unknown elementary school has now introduced him to millions of people. As a result of national media coverage, his visibility and fame is reaching new heights!

    I will begin reading his books this weekend and will likely put up a picture of him in my office next week.

    Very well done! 👍👍👍

  • Killer Marmot

    I wonder how far they’re going to take this historical purging. Franklin D. Roosevelt — a Democratic Party icon — has an uneven record on civil rights. As examples, he interned Japanese Americans and refused to integrate the armed forces.

    • California Defender

      If they are true to their Soviet-style historical purge, they must change the name of Berkeley, too.

      The town and university are named after George Berkeley, one of the first slave owners and traders in Rhode Island. He also frequently preached that slavery is natural and the best way to civilize and Christianize blacks. Berkeley said:

      “It would be of advantage to their slave masters’ affairs to have slaves who obey in all things, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, as fearing God; that gospel liberty consists with temporal servitude; and that their slaves would only become better slaves by being Christian.”

      – Bishop George Berkeley, 1729

    • y_p_w

      The issue with Joseph LeConte was that was unabashedly racist. He wasn’t simply a product of his time. Well after the Civil War and the loss of his slave, he was defending slavery as an institution. He continued to defend slavery as some sort of good for the slaves.

      The Sierra Club and National Park Service are renaming the building in Yosemite that was named after him.

      • California Defender

        Oh really? So then what did LeConte mean when he wrote in 1888:

        The South immediately before the war was out of sympathy with the rest of the civilized world. She had only remained stationary, while the rest of the civilized world rushed on. The cause of this arrest of development was, of course, the institution of slavery. Slavery had become an anomaly in the civilized world, and especially in the democratic republic like our own. In short, southerners had not kept pace with the process of evolutionary development. Slavery is now dead. There is not a ghost of it remaining in the imagination or heart of the Southern people of today.

        And I see no evidence of any official renaming of the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite. Both the National Park Service and the National Register of Historic Places still list it by that name. Only the Sierra Club has internally renamed it in their politically correct Facebook bubble. Such reprehensible actions are why I canceled my membership with them.

        • y_p_w

          The Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center (formerly LeConte Memorial Lodge), Yosemite’s first public visitor center and a National Historic Landmark, is operated by the Sierra Club from May through September and features a children’s corner, library, and a variety of environmental education and evening programs.

          Stop 12 on the Valley Shuttle:

          Yosemite Guide:

          Yosemite Name Changes
          The names of the following facilities in Yosemite have changed:
          • Half Dome Village (formerly Curry
          • Yosemite Valley Lodge (formerly
          Yosemite Lodge)
          • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
          (formerly The Ahwahnee)
          • Big Trees Lodge (formerly Wawona
          • Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area
          (formerly Badger Pass Ski Area)
          • Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center
          (formerly LeConte Memorial Lodge)

          Mentioned here:

          For several years, Adams was caretaker of the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge (now known as the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center) in Yosemite Valley.

          • California Defender

            I guess no good deed goes unpunished.

            At least more impressive natural features remain named after him: Le Conte Glacier, Le Conte Canyon, Le Conte Divide, Le Conte Falls and Mount Le Conte. Testaments to the fact that his legacy will easily weather any leftist pettiness.

            As I recall my statement that the house had not been renamed in a flash of Soviet-style historical erasure, I assume you will also recall your incorrect statement about Professor LeConte.

            Fair is fair.

          • y_p_w

            Give it time. It took decades for Mount McKinley to be officially renamed Denali. It’s not going to take that long given the momentum.

          • California Defender

            Can’t admit it, can you comrade?

            And when called on it you deflect with nonsense like a president who never visited Alaska, but a toothless gold prospector thought it might be neat to name a mountain after McKinley as he supported the gold standard over his opponent’s silver standard. Holy jeebus!

            Yep, totally the same as the Berkeley professor who founded the environmentalist movement and dedicated his life to preserving Yosemite until his dying day on a hike there.

            Good lord, put down your Stalin brand eraser for a second. The burning rubber smell is nauseating.