Berkeley school district board unanimously approves Black Lives Matter resolution

rename jefferson elementary
Catherine Wallin/File

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board unanimously approved a Black Lives Matter resolution Wednesday.

The resolution, authored by board member Ka’Dijah Brown, mandates anti-racism training for BUSD teachers, administrators and staff, aims to celebrate Black lives and includes an amendment to focus on the equity gap at Longfellow Middle School. According to board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, the board wants to increase district participation and funding for programs that will support Black students.

The resolution also enacted the renaming process for Jefferson and Washington elementary schools, which has been in the works since 2003 for Jefferson Elementary School.

Marguerite Talley-Hughes, Rosa Parks Elementary School transitional kindergarten teacher and former Jefferson teacher, said she has been pushing for Jefferson to be named Sequoia, a name chosen by the community, for 17 years.

“It came out of an effort to highlight the fact that when children come to school, white children and white parents have a very different experience with the institution of public school than Black children and other children of color,” Talley-Hughes said.

Talley-Hughes added that since 2003, she and her colleagues have followed the same BUSD policy that had been used when renaming Malcolm X Elementary School, Rosa Parks Elementary School and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

Talley-Hughes said she referred to Jefferson as Sequoia for her final seven years at the school.

“I wore a T-shirt where I replaced the letters ‘Jefferson’ with the letters for ‘Sequoia,’ ” Talley-Hughes said. “I wore it at every Wednesday assembly to protect my heart and my soul from this abuse, this racism, and also to let the children who had voted to know the truth.”

In addition to implementing the renaming process for Jefferson and Washington, the board also launched a “Black Joy Campaign,” which aims to support the “rich variety” of African American experiences in Berkeley, board President Judy Appel said.

Appel and other board members emphasized the commitments being made and the resources being allocated to Black students and their families rather than the name change.

“I appreciated that the board recognized that we need to remove not only symbolic representations of institutionalized racism, but the tangible manifestations of that racism as well,” said Ana Vasudeo, vice president of equity and inclusion of the Berkeley PTA Council. “Renaming Washington and Jefferson schools is a step in the right direction.”

The board requested that BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens provide it with quarterly updates on the implementation of the resolution.

Contact Naomi Birenbaum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @NaomiBirenbaum1.