School Names Lead To Controversy

Controversy brews in Clackamas over the naming of two new schools.


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What’s in a name?   Depending on who you talk to it could be considered racist or it could be showcasing people of color who have made an impact on society.  It also depends, apparently, on your political views.  As the North Clackamas School District builds a new high school and elementary school located on the eastern edge of the district, members of the district’s school board have held meetings to discuss naming the new structures.   The conversations over possibly naming them after a Supreme Court Justice or a civil rights pioneer has drawn some anger, frustration, and some claims of racism in the Clackamas community of Happy Valley where the new buildings will be located.

Not unlike other political issues, this one has brought out some discussion on Facebook posts by a former State Representative and a current NCSD Board member along with members of a group called, “Liberal Ladies of Happy Valley”, which boasts of nearly 200 members.  The posts began on the political page of Patrick Sheehan, who represented the Happy Valley community for one term.

“Attention Happy Valley! I haven’t posted to my political page in a while. But the North Clackamas School District has just released a survey after a huge public outcry over the ridiculous naming committee suggestion for our new High School. They are looking for people to respond to what you think of naming the new high school in Happy Valley the “Adrienne C. Nelson” High School, after judge who was just appointed to the supreme court by our governor this January. PLEASE take a moment to follow this link, and in the “Please provide feedback” section, say, “I do not support! The new high school needs to be Happy Valley High School.” Please do this now! Here’s the link:…/1FAIpQLSfOBEMiqcILf9Ray…/viewform…”

Shortly after the post that was made on April 27, 2018, several members of the “Liberal Ladies of Happy Valley” Facebook group responded to the original post by Sheehan including Katherine Rush.  I am not a member of Liberal Ladies of HV, but you go ahead and advocate for a simple, meaningless name. I will continue to advocate for the underrepresented PEOPLE of HV who you continue to attempt to marginalize and dismiss. We are advocating for CHILDREN in this community who are often overlooked and the targets of racial hate to be shown that they are loved, included, acknowledged, and supported. You, sir, are the one dividing this community, while we are trying to build it up and take steps toward progress.”

And then there was the response by Sheehan.  “I’d like to welcome the “Liberal ladies of Happy Valley” group to my political page. The rest of us will quietly and respectfully advocate for a common sense name for the high school while you unsuccessfully try to divide our community.”

The names creating the controversy are Adrienne C. Nelson, a Supreme Court Justice, and Beatrice Cannady, considered an Oregon Civil Rights Pioneer.  She was editor of the Advocate, the state’s largest African-American newspaper.

The new elementary school will be located at: 18031 SE Vogel Road, Damascus, OR.

The new high school will be at: 14897 SE Parklane Drive, Happy Valley, OR.

Following NCSD’s policy for naming facilities, an advisory committee consisting of community members, students, staff, and a historian was created to consider suggested names in a manner consistent with board policy. The first period to submit names and comments ended on Jan. 23, 2018, and almost 300 suggestions/comments were received. A second period to submit comments closed at 5pm on May 2, 2018, according to District Spokesman Jonathan Hutchinson.  On Monday, NCSD Board member Kathy Wai posted the following on her Facebook page.

“My Monday so far: being called a racist by another Asian woman (of all people) because I was in favor of wanting to name two schools in our district after two notable black women. I’m now being labeled as a racist because I brought up systemic racism at our last school board meeting, and that got everybody shook. 
NOTE: if you’re defending white privilege and white fragility and you’re a person of color, you are upholding white supremacy. As a community, we have a long ass way to go when it comes to standing in REAL SOLIDARITY with other communities of color. Don’t come for me. I’m not your typical model minority. I’m not your typical “quiet” Asian. I will talk about race, gender, identity. The truth will hurt, but it will also set you free. Anti-blackness needs to stop, and if our previous generations failed to address it, then it will start with this next generation of racial
Justice warriors.
P.S. If you know of anyone living in Clackamas school district, ESPECIALLY Happy Valley, please please connect me! We have an important vote coming up this week and I need more folks to testify and write letters of support.”

 Sheehan, when asked by the Compass for his thoughts on the NCSD Board naming of the schools said, “I hope everyone will have a universal opinion on that, because they absolutely haven’t. They’ve held their meetings in secret and created their own sets of rules that then they cite as the reason why they came to the conclusion they did.  I think the community of Happy Valley was pretty much on autopilot thinking this wasn’t the controversial decision to name the high school, I mean we have a Happy Valley Elementary and middle school, so the idea that we would name it anything but Happy Valley High School is perplexing.”

Wai shared, “The school naming committee that is made up of parents and community members and people from our school board in particular really put a lot of their time and energy to making sure that people in the community were able to give their suggestions. They put a lengthy time going through all the options but they really had a vision for diversity and equity. You know one of the things they really wanted was to name a school that was really honoring the diversity that is in our district.  I respect and see all of the other opinions and I respect those opinions but our district has a opportunity to continue to include diversity and equity in our mission and in our goals. So that is why that recommendation for that name came forward.” Wai also said that, “ All the school board meetings have been public as well and they have also been posted and the public was able to provide feedback so there was an open topic to provide conversation around the naming board.”

The Board is expected to make a final decision at their board meeting Thursday, May 10th.   The meeting will begin at 7 pm at the district office located at 12400 SE Freeman Way in Milwaukie.

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