CPS to rename 3 schools, including one named after Christopher Columbus

That makes nine schools renamed since a Chicago Sun-Times investigation found 30 schools were named for slaveholders, and schools named after white people — mostly men — vastly outnumbered those named for African Americans, Latinos and indigenous people.

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Chicago Public Schools board meeting

From left, Board Member Ruby Lozano Jr., Vice President Elizabeth Todd-Breland, President Jianan Shi and Board Member Tanya D. Woods with the Chicago Board of Education attend a CPS monthly board meeting at Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School in the Avalon Park neighborhood, April 25, 2024.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Three Chicago public schools are being renamed in the latest changes aimed at getting rid of racist or otherwise problematic namesakes.

They make nine schools that have been renamed since a Chicago Sun-Times investigation in 2020 found 30 schools were named for slaveholders, and schools named after white people — mostly men — outnumbered those named for African Americans by 4-1, Latinos 9-1 and indigenous people 120-1.

In a school system where 82% of students are Black or Latino, officials vowed to make changes. They created a policy last year for schools looking to change their names. They can submit a request, hold at least four meetings that take students’ opinions into consideration, draft an equity plan and vote on a name.

Rachel Parnell, a program manager in CPS’ equity office, previewed the latest proposals for Board of Education members Tuesday, ahead of next week’s full board meeting.

“If not improved, we will continue to perpetuate school names that are not reflective of students in the communities that we serve,” Parnell said.

In the latest changes, Melville Fuller Elementary in Bronzeville will become James Farmer Jr. Elementary after meetings in February and April led to a vote in favor of a new name.

Fuller was the eighth chief justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1888 until his death in 1910. Most notably, he upheld racial segregation laws in the Plessy v. Ferguson case under a “separate but equal” theory. The Chicago school named after him has 303 students, 95% of whom are Black.

Farmer, the school’s new namesake, was one of the foremost leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He reportedly organized the nation’s first civil rights sit-in in Chicago, and he co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality to use nonviolent action to protest injustice.

In Ukrainian Village, Christopher Columbus Elementary will lose its name and be known as Ruth Bader Ginsburg Elementary after a 7 to 3 Local School Council vote.

Columbus is a controversial figure who has been supported by some in the Italian American community through efforts to remove his name from civic spaces. In his travels from Europe to the New World, he took hundreds of Native Americans as captives and took them back to sell in Spain. When some groups of natives rebelled after being put to work in gold mines and on plantations, Columbus ordered a crackdown that killed many and had their dismembered bodies paraded through the streets.

Ginsburg is the former Supreme Court justice who was known for passionate dissents that often landed on the liberal side of the law. She became known as a feminist icon after several opinions throughout her career promoting gender equality. New namesakes for CPS have to be dead for at least a year. Ginsburg died in 2020.

The third school changing its name is James Monroe Elementary in Logan Square. It’ll become Logan Square Elementary. Monroe was a founding father and the fifth U.S. president. He enslaved hundreds of people on his Virginia plantation and brought enslaved people with him to the White House. He believed slavery was a danger to the union but wouldn’t free the people he held.

In a discussion about the changes Tuesday, Board of Education member Tanya Woods said “self-determination is important,” noting it’s one of seven principles in the African American celebration Kwanzaa.

“This is a step that’s not taken lightly, and it sends a very strong message to the communities that exist today but also to the children and the families that will participate in these school communities in the future,” Woods said.

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