Berkeley residents raise concerns about name of LeConte Elementary School

Ashish Samaddar/Staff

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Berkeley Unified School District officials are considering changing the name of LeConte Elementary School after criticism from residents regarding its namesake.

Joseph LeConte, for whom the elementary school is named, was one of the first UC Berkeley professors. LeConte and his brother John — the first acting UC Berkeley president — were raised in Georgia and owned more than 200 slaves. In addition, the family manufactured munitions for the Confederate States Army.

Because of Joseph LeConte’s personal history, some city residents have raised concerns regarding the name of the elementary school.

Several community members have approached the Berkeley school district about their concerns, according to school district spokesperson Mark Coplan. He said that though community members have been inquiring about and discussing changing the school’s name, the school board has yet to officially meet or act upon their concerns.

“We’re a long way from actually getting to any place,” Coplan said.

The school district would have to undergo an extensive administrative process before changing any names, Coplan added. This process would include an open discussion among students, parents, alumni and community members.

“The name-changing process is a serious one to undertake,” Coplan said. “The board wants to make sure that all stakeholders are addressed before coming to conclusions.”

The elementary school is not the only place in Berkeley, however, that uses LeConte’s name. UC Berkeley’s LeConte Hall is named after the LeConte brothers as well.

The campus has certain rules for naming buildings and properties, reserving names to honor those who have made important contributions to the campus.

Blake Simons, campus senior and member of the campus’s Black Student Union, previously told The Daily Californian that acknowledging these controversial individuals is a constant reminder that black students are not respected on campus. For Simons, campus buildings such as LeConte Hall are “symbols of institutional racism.”

According to Coplan, the Berkeley school district will continue to discuss the name change, although it has not started an official process.

Contact Danwei Ma at [email protected].