BUSD considers renaming LeConte Elementary School in Berkeley

Ciecie Chen/Staff

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LeConte Elementary School in Berkeley may be approved for a name change this month, given the controversy surrounding its namesake.

The school was named after Joseph LeConte, one of the first UC Berkeley professors in the late 1800s. He and his brother John LeConte — the first acting UC president — owned more than 200 slaves and also manufactured munitions for the Confederate States Army.

A petition signed by nearly 130 families and several dozen teachers was presented to the Berkeley Unified School District in May, initiating the process to change the elementary school’s name, according to Robert Collier, a LeConte PTA member and organizer of the name change campaign.

BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans will make his recommendation regarding the name change to the board Nov. 15. If a change is recommended, an advisory committee will be formed to collaborate with Evans.

“The process was set up to be intentionally slow and thoughtful so that there is an opportunity to think through the possibilities and ramifications of a new name for a school,” said BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress in an email.

According to Burress, the advisory committee would reach out to the Berkeley community and solicit suggestions for LeConte Elementary’s new name.

Collier said the situation is reminiscent of one from about 10 years ago, when North Berkeley residents petitioned to change the name of Jefferson Elementary School. At the time, the district had no formal process for reviewing names, according to Collier. The school board voted against the renaming, and the movement lost traction.

“It’s a two-stage process, de-naming and renaming — and they are very separate processes,” Collier said.

UC Berkeley’s LeConte Hall is also named after Joseph LeConte, but the campus does not have a set name change process in place as BUSD does. A report published in April by the campus’s Building Naming Project Task Force found that current UC Berkeley policies do not provide sufficient guidance on “incorporating institutional values” into naming decisions, said campus spokesperson Michael Dirda.

Dirda said the campus is forming a review committee, to which members of the UC Berkeley community can submit proposals to unname a building. The committee will review and make recommendations to the chancellor for each assessment.

“Building renaming at Berkeley isn’t a unilateral decision that would be made by the chancellor,” Dirda said. “Once this process is in place, likely this coming spring, it is likely that LeConte Hall will be one of the names brought to the committee’s attention.”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.