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Patrick Henry & Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Should CMSD change the schools named after them?

Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson [Everett Collection / Shutterstock]
Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson

Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Louis Agassiz was a eugenicist who propagated theories about racial inferiority. Despite their contributions to society, these men's racist pasts pose a problem for school districts whose buildings are adorned with their names, especially in a majority minority school district.

So now, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District will likely rename three schools named after Henry, Jefferson, and Agassiz. It is also considering renaming Albert Bushnell Hart Elementary and Luis Muñoz Marín Dual Language Academy.

The CMSD board gave the go-ahead for a working group to hold public meetings in January and February seeking feedback from the community on renaming the schools. In March, the board of education will vote on new proposed names or whether any of the schools should keep their current names.

“They want their children to feel proud walking through the schools that they're in,” CMSD’s Chief Strategic Implementation Officer Trent Mosley explained. “And some of it has to do with the name that sits on top of their building.”

This past summer, CMSD created an ad hoc working group to develop criteria to determine whether a school name would or would not be considered. Based on that criteria, the board will not consider the names of persons who have a “documented history of enslaving other people,” were involved in the institution of slavery, or were involved in the oppression of people of color, women or minority groups.

The working group researched the biography and history of every CMSD school name and placed seven schools in a category of "definite additional review needed."

If there is community support and the board approves the plan, five elementary schools will be renamed by the fall of the 2022-2023 school year.

John Marshall High School and James Ford Rhodes High will likely have their names replaced as well, but the district has not set a timeline for the process to take place.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”