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Jefferson Elementary Votes To Change Name to Sequoia By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday June 03, 2005

With students leading the way, 57 percent of the Jefferson Elementary School community voted Tuesday night to change the name of the school to Sequoia Elementary. 

The recommendation now goes to the Berkeley Unified School District Board, which makes the final decision on school names. 

If the name change is approved, school officials expect a minimal expense for implementation. 

The school was originally named for Thomas Jefferson, the second president of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. But some teachers and parents began pressing for a name change last year over concerns about another Jefferson legacy: the fact that he kept slaves on his Virginia plantation. 

The final vote was 239 to 177 for the name change. Students supported the change 161 to 111, while staff supported the new name 11 to 5. The vote was considerably closer among parents and guardians, 67 to 61 in favor of Sequoia. 

Jefferson Principal Betty Delaney, who remained neutral in the vote, said that she was pleased with the way the school’s children handled the months of sometimes heated debate and controversy preceding the vote. 

“I think they took it very seriously,” Delaney said. “It was an educational experience.” 

Delaney said that she expects some of that educational process to continue in the next school year. 

“We’re not going to have an ongoing dialogue on Jefferson as Jefferson,” she said. “But we have certain building blocks of our educational process here. Being safe, being responsible. One of those building blocks is being courageous. One of our learning processes with the students that will continue out of the debate over the Jefferson name change will be what do you do when you have a difficult decision to make. How do you take a stand? How do you make courageous decisions?” 

Delaney also said that she expects the educational process will continue with the adults associated with Jefferson school. She pointed to what most participants called a “positive” meeting last month when parents/guardians and staff members met at Jefferson to debate the name change. 

“The vote has just taken place, so we haven’t had the chance to decide the form, but there definitely will be a follow-up that takes place in the fall,” she said. “That sort of community dialogue should continue. It doesn’t just stop with one vote.”