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Committee to rename John Muir Outdoor School convenes

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders camp at the Lava Beds as part of a geology unit study of the John Muir School. File photo
The group of JMOS staffers, students and community members will take suggestions and review them for months before forwarding to school board

Earlier this month, the John Muir Outdoor School renaming committee convened for the first time since the Ashland School Board unanimously decided in November that the institution’s namesake should be scrubbed.

The public meeting, which took place Feb. 2, was meant to go over the committee’s purpose and protocols and provide an opportunity for members to get to know one another. The committee consists of two students who previously attended the school, two parents of current students, two school board members, two current students and three outdoor school staff members.

“I think the people of Ashland support removing the name of a person whose history is painful to some members of our community,” Sabrina Prud'homme, a member of the Ashland School Board and the renaming committee, wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune. “I also think the community will embrace a new name that is reflective of our values and our school, whether that person is white, African American or otherwise.”

In a recent online newsletter, John Muir Outdoor School Principal Jennifer Parks described the meeting as, “yet another step toward our new, permanent home.” The outdoor school is currently stationed at Lincoln Elementary School while its permanent home, Ashland Middle School, is under renovation.

“It's a busy and exciting time to be a part of John Muir Outdoor School, and we are grateful for the passion, dedication and commitment of those working for our students and school,” Parks wrote.

The decision to rename John Muir Outdoor School came after the school board appointed another committee to spend 2021 examining the namesakes of all the district's schools. The committee used an extensive scoring system and determined that John Muir Outdoor School should be renamed first.

Muir, who died in 1914, helped create the National Park System and co-founded the Sierra Club. That committee’s report recognized him for his “substantial contributions to the preservation of wild places,” but found after “a more critical reading” that his “actions and beliefs” regarding Native Americans who inhabited future national parks land were harmful and “reverberate to the present day.”

On Nov. 8, when the issue came up on the board’s regular meeting agenda, all of its members voted in favor of forming a new committee to come up with new name recommendations.

Those recommendations — even if just a single one — could come after months of meetings and a review of online suggestions from community members. Ashland schools Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove will forward any recommendation(s) to the school board, which will have the final say in the new name for the outdoor school.

The meeting agenda for the renaming committee cited one of the Ashland School District’s core values of diversity and inclusion, as well as the outdoor school’s equity policy, as part of what the new name should represent.

The agenda also provides a link to a Washington Post article titled “Schools of Thought in Choosing Name,” as something all committee members should read.

“In an ideal scenario, the months-long process of naming a school would be straightforward. Maybe the name mirrors that of the surrounding community or a popular landmark. It might honor a historic icon or a local hero, or commemorate a historic event,” the Post’s article begins. “But in reality, the naming of a new school — a process that involves school officials collaborating with residents, who might offer input through public comment or a naming committee — can be complicated by strong opinions and controversial history.”

Ashland School Board member Victor Chang, who is Korean-American, said he did not join the renaming committee with any expectations of how difficult the group’s charge might be.

“Upon further reflection, I will add that I don't think of the work ahead as being ‘hard’ necessarily, not in the traditional sense of that word. Important, yes. Necessitating time, energy and critical thinking, absolutely,” Chang wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune. “But that's not necessarily hard, it's just the sense of responsibility I feel due to the nature of the task in front of us.”

He is not concerned as to whether the committee will produce a list of names or a single one.

“A big part of this work includes trusting the process and not overly worrying about it,” Chang wrote. “We have an engaged and caring group of JMOS and district stakeholders, and I trust that we will arrive at the right outcomes for the school, the district, and all the present and future students.”

Both Chang and Prud'homme said they would not share their suggestions for new names at this time.

“But I'm sure they'll be considered in due time by the committee,” Chang said.

Prud'homme said she’s approaching her role on the committee with “an open mind.”

“I'm ... focused on meeting our objectives and truly listening to our community, our kids, their families and our schools in general,” she wrote. “I do have thoughts on names, but will share those only as part of the recognized process, so as not to shortchange the vetting or invite undue consideration to any of the thoughts I may have.”

Chang said he’s interested to hear the numerous name suggestions that will surely come, and after the committee does its due diligence in vetting names, it will have yet another task

“I think it will be part of the committee's work to not only vet and evaluate the names for consideration, but also be clear on our reasons and rationale for our eventual preferences,” he wrote. “I believe that once the community understands the details and well articulated reasoning associated with any names put forward, that they would apply their own critical thinking to the evidence to help inform their opinions and their understanding of our work.”

The renaming committee’s next meeting will be held virtually at 6 p.m. Feb. 16. The agenda includes finalizing the name selection criteria, reviewing name suggestions from the community, and assigning committee members names they should research.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.