Government Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

South Orange-Maplewood Residents Ask to Rename Jefferson School

A group of nearly 200 South Orange-Maplewood residents — including several elected leaders from both towns — are asking the Board of Education to rename Jefferson Elementary School.

A letter submitted to the Board of Education and addressed to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ronald G. Taylor on June 19, states, “To name a school for a person is to honor them and to honor their values and lives. For the local children who attend Jefferson Elementary School to have to regard as a role model an enslaver [Thomas Jefferson] who stole the liberty, dignity, labor and knowledge of over 600 human beings is no longer acceptable. History has also confirmed his violation of an enslaved woman through four decades, ending only with his death. There is nothing about this violence and tragedy worth commemorating in the name of a school.”

The letter suggests that the school district/board of education create a community poll to name the school after a prominent Black New Jerseyan and suggests Marion Thompson Wright, “who was not only the first African American woman to receive a PhD in History but who was also an education scholar.”

The letter was authored by local school district parents Jan Kaminsky and Rhea Beck and has been co-signed by 179 local residents in including Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee, Maplewood Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, and South Orange Village Trustees Summer Jones, Walter Clarke and Karen Hartshorn Hilton.

In response to a request for comment, South Orange-Maplewood School District spokeswoman Anide Eustache told Village Green, “The Board has acknowledged receipt of the petition and is committed to discussing and reviewing the concern.”

The South Orange Board of Trustees discussed the letter at length at its June 22 meeting, as Collum sought to determine if the governing body might possibly adopt a resolution in support of the request. “I think this is something very necessary,” said Jones. Trustees Bob Zuckerman, Steve Schnall, and Donna Coallier did not express opposition to the move but discussed reviewing all building names in the towns. According to Collum, the Trustees will revisit a resolution sometime this month.

The potential renaming of Jefferson School is not on the agenda for the July 8 Maplewood Township Committee meeting. However, Township Committee member Greg Lembrich wrote to Village Green via email, “That specific issue is not on the agenda, but we are discussing the Columbus plaque/monument in Memorial Park. The Maplewood TC has authority/jurisdiction over the park, but obviously not the schools. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Jefferson issue is raised tonight, either during that discussion item and/or by a member of the public during public comment.”

The full letter to Taylor reads as follows:

Dr. Ronald Taylor, Superintendent

The School District of South Orange-Maplewood

525 Academy Street

Maplewood, New Jersey 07040

June 19, 2020

Dear Dr. Taylor,

We are a group of Maplewood and South Orange community members who have as our highest priority the education of our children in a just and equitable environment. The morals and values with which we enculture our children must include liberation from the injustices that we see every day, especially in our own district.

We write to you today to implore the School District of South Orange-Maplewood  remove the name Jefferson Elementary School and instead create a community poll to name this school after a prominent Black New Jerseyan. Our own suggestion would be Marion Thompson Wright, who was not only the first African American woman to receive a PhD in History but who was also an education scholar. Her work focused on educational policy for Black students in the state of New Jersey and its segregated and unjust schools.

To name a school for a person is to honor them and to honor their values and lives. For the local children who attend Jefferson Elementary School to have to regard as a role model an enslaver who stole the liberty, dignity, labor and knowledge of over 600 human beings is no longer acceptable. History has also confirmed his violation of an enslaved woman through four decades, ending only with his death. There is nothing about this violence and tragedy worth commemorating in the name of a school.

In addition to the renaming, we request that the district develop a plaque, to be displayed prominently at the building, that is readily visible and describes the meaning and significance of the renaming at this time in history. 

Let us show the children and community of South Orange-Maplewood that there is no place for the legacy of a man whose accomplishments as the third President of the United States can never outweigh his brutality and callousness toward those much more vulnerable than he. We must instead choose a name for the school that embodies the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s philosophy as a district that “celebrates diversity, human rights, and equality.” The time for this change is long overdue, but not too late.

Sincerely,

Rhea Beck

Scot Beck

Jan Oosting Kaminsky

Samantha Kaminsky

Keli Tianga

Frank Tianga

Maria Seigenthaler

Steve Roses

Jean Sim

Robert Lee

Ritu Pancholy

Darshan Bachhawat

Susan Lewis Bergin

Colleen Pierce Breslin

Catherine Cronin

Ronni Brecher Schwartz

Sally Unsworth

Nina Essel

Kwaku Essel

Jessi Gottlieb Empestan

Heather Saslovsky

Kristin Saslovsky

Christel Hyden

Vanessa Parvin

Jeff Parvin

Jennifer Serravallo

Stef Lyon-Stirling

Jennifer Greenfield Attock

Barbara Velazquez

Felicity Crew

Nikki Braden

Ken Feinleib

ToniAnn Kruse

Jonathan Richard

Nick Carbonara

Jodi Weinmann

Jessica Miller

Jocelyn Ryan

Claire McNamara Traas

Amanda Mottram

Ellen Archer

Shannon Kirk

Kait Kerrigan

Mitch Center

Scott Greenstone

Kathy Greenstone

Kim Takacs

Axel Takacs

Siu Lo Seamon

Bo Mehrad

Samantha Grab

Emily Regas

Gretchen Fancher

Rhianna Kreger

Allison Posner

Trina Obi

Rachel Arturi Pruzan

Kate Travers

Jessie Gallogly

Taylor Elwood

Deborah Engel

Margaret Omariba

Lanny Cheuck

Patricia Martinez

Lauren Henkel-Lorenz

Rachel Eskin Fisher

Mary Ellen Dawkins

Christine Houseworth

Monica Johnson

Heather Herz

Michael Krans

Catherine Hines

Gwen Krueger

Nela Hadzic

Emily Konopinski Trunk

Claudia Zuluaga

Nicole Stewart

Julie Fry

Larry Hales

Cailin Caro

Rebecca Lock

Jane Perry

Peter Haugen

Meera Patel

Kiersten Carlson

Claudia Schiepers

Michelle Lambert Wood

Melissa Renny

Elizabeth Zenobi

Ciara McElroy

Mark Graham

Chavonne McCray

Gail Greenstein

Alexis Karteron

James White

Sarah Rothman

Jessica Bateman

Michelle Movahed

Stephanie Fils

Suzanne Podhurst

Joanna Doran-Paley

Wendy Doran-Paley

Ann Marie McCaughey

Jenn Sturm

Shayna Sackett-Gable

Kirsten Widmer Brash

Tina Kelley

Lauren Charlip

Camille Estrella

Lisa Duggan

Lauren Byers

Claire Berrios

Merih Danali Cantarella

Steven Ferraro

Robin Simon

Pamela Goldberg

Heather Weine Brochin

Laura McCann

Beth Cosentino

Rachel Gewirtz Goldman

Setonya Horton

Rebecca Laming

Linda Dorf

Avram Rips

Heather Gregorio

Paula Gomez

Dana Fritz Ehrlich

Lauren Kochman

Hannah Zollman

Stephanie Asch

Mark Asch

Joseph Truglio

Allyson Murphy

Beth Kitzinger

Alissa Kaplan

Kate Feigenbaum

Casey Kait

Meredith Greenspan Katz

Molly Gise

Nicole Kleinbaum

Leslie Salas

Jessica Mingus

Frank Peralta

Pamela O’Halloran

Julia Haubner Smith

Laura Uscher

Owen Uscher

Stacy Merriweather Fontil

Debbie Grossman

CJ Jeiven

Nitya Karthik

Catherine Colman

Candra Turner

Anne Abate

Rebecca Zlotnik

Mona Karim

Alex Sepulveda

Delta Sepulveda

Jim Diegnan

Michael Cope

Amy Forman

Krista Manrique

Madeline Dennis-Yates

Meredith Lambert

Katherine Sparks

Johnny Sparks

Sharon Bauer Michaels

Matthew Michaels

Natalie Peretti

Olivia Lewis-Chang

Hilary Conway

Christina Keller

Tara Lombardo

Dionne Scott

Meghan Gosselink

Dan Gosselink

Regina Eckert

Abigail Murtagh

Erin Scherzer

Rosemary McLaughlin

Tara Adams Ragone

Christine Olson

Stephen Weiss

Angie Hannam Blanco

Malia Herman

David Herman

Norah Salazar

Stephanita Mafla-Mills

Tracy Sham

Palisa Kelley

Luca Kern-Stone

Becca Kern-stone

Shawn Driemeier Portner

Lindsey Becker

Tara Benigno

Carol Cain

Travis Cain

David Cain

Kim Collins

Kristin Mahoney

Whelan Mahoney

Niv Miyasoto

Nancy Gagnier

 

South Orange Village President:

Sheena Collum

 

South Orange Village Trustees:

Summer Jones

Walter Clarke

Karen Hartshorn Hilton

 

Maplewood Mayor:

Frank McGehee

 

Maplewood Town Council Members:

Dean Dafis

 

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