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Outdoor school in Ashland should be renamed, board says

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders camp at the Lava Beds as part of a geology unit study of the John Muir School. Courtesy photo
A committee will be formed to recommend new names for the John Muir Outdoor School, the school district board decided unanimously Monday

The Ashland School Board voted unanimously Monday to set in motion a process to rename the John Muir Outdoor School.

That decision, during a regular board meeting, came after a committee spent months researching the namesakes behind each of its buildings, including “any negative impact ... names may have on members of the school community based on the namesake’s morally repugnant views or actions.”

The legacy of Muir, who helped create the national park system and co-founded the Sierra Club, has come under scrutiny in recent years for the way he treated Native Americans. The committee recommended the outdoor school be the first to be renamed, because it had the largest negative score within the members’ judging criteria.

“There are a lot of places to honor John Muir already. There are also some reasons to honor him; there are also some questions,” board Chairwoman Eva Skuratowicz said during the meeting. “I actually see this as an incredible opportunity for JMOS because … how cool is it to be able to look again and look to — I’m hoping — somebody local who had an impact on how we view and interact with the outdoors in a way that is more inclusive.”

Skuratowicz also said she is looking forward to hearing which names that committee might advance.

Board member Victor Chang, who sat on the prior committee that recommended the name change, expressed support for the idea, while also saying it was “validating” to see the community’s responses in a survey the district conducted. The survey showed that of the current and former students who participated, 100% of them supported the name change. Meanwhile, the opinions were more mixed among the parents, staff and community members surveyed.

“It’s not like I think this person was evil — obviously [Muir] had a great impact,” Chang said. “But we have a chance to do so much better. We have an opportunity here to really be inclusive and welcoming to all of our students. There is a wide swath of possibility in front of us.”

Jennifer Parks, principal of JMOS, did not make remarks during the meeting, but answered the Mail Tribune’s questions following it.

“What an exciting time for our school and community! I’m eager for the opportunity for us to engage in the process of determining a new name for our school. How many people get the chance to have that kind of impact,” she wrote in an email. “We look forward to the renaming process involving students, families, staff members and the greater community.”

Going forward, the JMOS community will “be engaged in research and having honest conversations about John Muir” so that students understand what led to the school board’s decision.

“From the time that our school was founded, we’ve challenged ourselves to be innovative and forward thinking,” Parks wrote. “This is yet another opportunity for our incredible school community to do just that.”

She thanked the board for openly expressing a desire to have JMOS associates be part of the naming committee.

“We have a lot to offer in choosing a new name and are ready to dig in,” Parks wrote.

The board’s decision Nov. 8 triggers a renaming process for JMOS, which is currently under construction and temporarily housed at the former Lincoln Elementary School.

The policy states that it’s the board’s responsibility to appoint a committee with district and community representatives to recommend new names for the school. Those recommendations are then forwarded to Superintendent Sam Bogdanove for review before he sends them to the board for possible approval.

The district’s policy says that its buildings should be named after local or national figures, early Oregon or Jackson County pioneers or anything to do with the location or region the institution is located.

The committee’s job is to gather input from the community on possible people and places after which JMOS could be named. However, the committee may also consider an unsolicited name and make a single recommendation to the superintendent and the board.

The policy as written said the board will make a final decision on the new name on or after a six-month period from the time of the committee’s recommendation only if a single name is put forward.

However, Skuratowicz told the Mail Tribune, this period of consideration will also take place even if multiple names are recommended.

At the Nov. 8 meeting, board member Jill Franko questioned the timeline of the naming process.

“To me, it could take three to six months to come up with a name, and you’re looking at another six months after that,” she said. “I don’t think we want to wait a year.”

Skuratowicz, who put the naming policy together, explained why the process takes so long.

“We really want to make sure that we are truly vetting that person,” she said. “If anything comes forward about the person or whatever the name is, we want to give time for that to happen. There’s no person who’s 100 perfect at everything they do, so it’s important to have a full understanding.”