Controversy over Yuri Kochiyama, one of seven names on the shortlist for the renaming of Washington Elementary School, has resulted in a delayed process until the end of the school year.
In summer 2020, the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, passed the Black Lives Matter Resolution, which among other initiatives, calls for the renaming of Washington and Jefferson elementary schools. While Jefferson has since been renamed Ruth Acty Elementary School, after the district’s first Black teacher, the process for Washington Elementary School still has seven names being considered.
To give the school’s Naming Advisory Committee more time to discuss the candidates, BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens and BUSD Associate Superintendent Rubén Aurelio asked for an extension until the end of the school year.
“The deliberate moment of coming together is expressly for the purpose of listening, acknowledging harm, and repairing relationships,” Stephens and Aurelio said in a Feb. 2 press release. “We also have work to do as a district to … ensure that the representations of all seven of the finalists, including potentially controversial aspects of their lives, is sensitive to their full legacies and presented on even ground.”
The other six names being considered are Frances Albrier, Berkeley civil rights leader; Herb Wong, Berkeley desegregation advocate; Mable Howard, who kept BART underground to preserve neighborhoods and Yoshiko Uchida, a Berkeley author who wrote about internment experiences; along with James Baldwin and Maya Angelou.
After the list was published Jan. 17, several parents and teachers approached Washington Elementary School Principal Katia Hazen with concerns about Kochiyama. The civil rights leader, known for her work in Asian-Black solidarity, also made comments about Osama bin Laden that parents felt were objectionable.
In response, Hazen approached the faculty meeting and the Naming Advisory Committee with these concerns. According to an adjustment to an internal document, Kochiyama’s name was temporarily removed from consideration. However, no public-facing documents were changed.
“We acknowledge that this conversation at the faculty meeting, which many people learned about after it happened, the adjustment to the internal planning document, and the lack of an organized way to provide feedback during this stage of the process, have caused pain for members of our community,” Stephens and Aurelio said in the press release.
These events evoked long patterns of historical erasure, memories of illegal incarceration, feelings of invisibility and reminders of the ongoing impacts of model minority myth, according to the BUSD Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community.
In addition, the BUSD AAPI community highlighted the district’s ethnic studies curriculum as critical education, according to the press release. The curriculum’s goal is to educate students about histories that are typically not taught in schools, such as Asian American, Latinx and Black histories.
“This renaming work, and this reminder about the importance of inclusion, is an affirmation of the direction our district is headed,” Stephens and Aurelio said in the press release. “All of these efforts help us to ensure that all of our diverse communities are heard and valued.”