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Students offer alternative monikers for schools that formerly had 'Lynch' in their names

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON  - Students from Wood Elemetary School present their top picks for a new school name. The school board will decide on June 6 from choices Powell Butte, Elliott Prairie or Douglas Fir elementary school.  The controversial move to rename two elementary schools in the Centennial School District with the word "lynch" in their names advanced Wednesday night when students from the schools revealed their top three suggestions to the school board.

Meadows Elementary School will be rechristened Centennial, Evergreen Meadows or remain Meadows Elementary School. Wood Elementary School will be renamed Powell Butte, Elliott Prairie or Douglas Fir elementary school.

Last summer, the district and school board proposed changing the names of three elementary schools — Lynch View, Lynch Wood and Lynch Meadows — generating a good deal of controversy.

The schools originally included the name Lynch to honor the Patrick and Catherine Lynch family that donated 1 acre of land to the district for a school in 1900.

But some argued that as the district has become more racially diverse, some students and families felt unsafe in a building with "lynch" in its name. Many in the community objected to any change, noting the Lynch family should continue to be honored and because Lynch was a family name, it was not connected to any racial or violent connotations of the word "lynch."

In August, the all-volunteer school board voted to change the name of Lynch View Elementary School to Patrick Lynch Elementary School. At that time, the board said it would study renaming Lynch Wood and Lynch Meadows elementary schools. In the interim, the schools were referred to simply as Wood and Meadows.

The board did not vote on the names suggested at the Wednesday, May 22, meeting but is expected to make a decision at the next meeting on Wednesday, June 6.

The schools went through an extensive process with meetings, surveys and research.

"We engaged in a very student-centered process," Meadows Principal Karen Weinert told the school board meeting. Every classroom suggested a name and they were all voted on.

The students and adult renaming committee members at Wood Elementary School engaged in extensive research, looking into local landmarks and history.

Wood Principal Marin Miller told those at the meeting that Powell Butte is only a mile from the school, and they found through the process that 80 percent of the students had never been there.

Another choice revives the name Elliott Prairie School. It was built in 1878 near what is now Division Street and Southeast 157th Avenue and was the first school in the area, Miller said.

The Douglas Fir name was inspired by the native tree. Miller said Wood will also select a new mascot and colors.

The Centennial district, like others in East Multnomah County, is becoming more racially diverse. Fewer than 50 percent of students are white and more than 10 percent of the students attending Centennial schools at the end of 2017 were black or multi-racial.

The district said in July 2017 that "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 well over a year prior to 2017. Other local institutions including parks, churches and businesses also have the word "lynch" in their name.

Centennial is not alone in considering name changes. 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.

For example, The Oregon Geographic Names Board identified 172 geographic features in Oregon named "squaw" and is systematically changing the names because of the offensive racial slur. University of Oregon renamed Dunn Hall to Unthank Hall because Frederick Dunn, a former professor at the college, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Patrick Lynch Elementary School is at 1546 S.E. 169th Place; Wood, 3615 S.E. 174th Ave.; and Meadows, 18009 S.E. Brooklyn St.

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