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Proposed school name change draws a storm of protest to Centennial School Board.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A family named Lynch donated land for an elementary school in 1900. Three Centennial School District elementary schools incorporate the family name into the school names.Despite stirring up a storm of controversy, the Centennial School Board at a meeting on Wednesday will continue to discuss dropping "Lynch" from the names of three elementary schools because of violent and racial associations with the word.

The board is scheduled to vote on the name change at the 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, school board meeting, but it could postpone or even decide not to vote at all on the matter. The meeting has been moved from the usual cramped space at the district headquarters to the cafeteria at Centennial High School, 3505 S.E. 182d Ave., because of expected high attendance at the meeting.

Public comment is always welcome at school board meetings, but there are time limits and other constraints.

Comments roared onto social media and into the school district after The Outlook and other news organizations reported on the possible name changes. An overwhelming majority of the comments were against changing the names of Lynch Meadows Elementary School at 18009 S.E. Brooklyn St., Lynch View Elementary School, 1546 S.E. 169th Place, and Lynch Wood, 3615 S.E. 174th Ave.

The school names honor the Lynch family, which donated one acre for a school in 1900. Many of the commenters scoffed at the suggestion, saying there are no racial connotations to the school names because they are named for the Lynch family.

One Facebook comment echoed what many others were saying, "This is taking politically correct too far. The schools were named to honor a family whose last name was Lynch, not to advocate lynchings."

Another described the suggestion as "Ridiculous! Keep honoring the family who donated the land! People need to get over themselves. Teach about the history of the school every year and help students understand the difference."

Some suggested adding the first names of the donors to the school names to make it clear that Lynch is a family name and to teach students about the family and area history.

"The board is really trying to find a win-win solution, so some of the suggestions out there are things the board was already discussing," district spokesperson Carol Fenstermacher said in an email.

"The board and district are not trying to dishonor the Lynch family and the donation of land made more than a century ago," she wrote. Fenstermacher also noted that "the district no longer actually owns any of the land donated by the Lynch family."

The district said in July "the Lynch school names have proven to be a disruption to the learning environment for our increasingly diverse student population." The move to drop the word "lynch" from the school names has been informally under discussion for more than a year. Other local institutions, including parks and churches, also have the word "lynch" in their names.

Many schools, towns and agencies have changed names of buildings, natural features or teams and mascots to be more sensitive to racial issues and stereotypes. University of Oregon recently renamed Dunn Hall to Unthank Hall because Frederick Dunn, a former professor at the college, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Centennial district, like others in East Multnomah County, is becoming more racially diverse. About 10 percent of students attending Centennial schools at the end of 2016 were black or multi-racial. About 45 percent of students are white. The remainder are Latino, Asian and other ethnicities.

At the Wednesday, Aug. 9, meeting, the board will consider three questions:

• Is having the Lynch name(s) on Centennial schools creating barriers between the district and families of color?

• Does the name have a negative impact on student's feelings about their school and their academic outcomes?

• Is there a win-win solution that honors students and families complaints while also honoring the Lynch family that donated the land to the District in 1900? 

If the board votes to drop the word "lynch," the schools could be called Meadows Elementary School, View Elementary School and Wood Elementary School.

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