Schools are getting sensitive to avoiding naming mascots after Native Americans. But...Quakers?

DAVID F. ASHTON - During the schools recent centennial celebration, the Franklin High School Quakers mascot gave a friendly hug to the then Franklin Alumni Association President Pam Knuth, a member of the Class of 75. Since 2016, the question of whether or not "Quakers" is an appropriate nickname for Franklin High School (FHS) sports teams, and its seldom-seen mascot, has been simmering.

This issue came to a full boil at a February 27 Portland Public Schools Board meeting, held at Cleveland High School, when the topic of naming came up; specifically about the possibility of renaming Jefferson High – and the Franklin "Quakers".

The PPS Board announced drafting changes to "2.20.010-P Naming School District Property" to include the responsibility and authority "as well as focus options school mascots, symbols, and other images considered for representation of a school or District is the responsibility of the Board of Education."

Under the name convention "General Criteria" heading, subset:

(b) Names submitted for consideration shall not:

(iii) be a person, location, or character whose primary identification is of a religious nature or be a name of a religious group or members.

"This issue first came up about six years ago, and has been a continuing concern," FHS Principal Juanita Valder told THE BEE in a March interview.

"From what I understand, there was one 'formal complaint', filed by Mia Pisano Yang; she did get some signatures on petitions, and the PTSA supported her assertion that the name be changed," Valder said.

Principles regarding the separation of church and state seem to be the basis of Pisano Yang's complaint and demand for changing the FHS nickname. Her church, known as the "Religious Society of Friends", meets at a building on lower S.E. Stark Street, identified by a large sign reading "Multnomah Friends Meeting (Quakers)".

On a Facebook page supporting the name change, a posting read,

"PPS has already received petitions from scores of parents, students, staff, and Quaker community members, who do find the 'Quaker' nickname disrespectful and offensive."

But also on Facebook, more than one FHS Alum – who also claim membership in the Religious Society of Friends – expressed different feelings about the issue. In a post, Donna Gunter wrote, in part,

"I am filled with pride that the Quaker name is held in such high regard. ... To me, the Quaker name stands for honesty, integrity, justice, and honor, and I believe that those beliefs are also held by the Franklin community."

Franklin High Alumni Association President Gary Lee, who passed away in February, had been a staunch defender of the "Quakers" moniker, and was a founding member of a group called the Committee to Defend the Quaker Name.

Another Franklin alum, Bob Earnest, who said he's continuing Lee's effort to oppose the name change, observed that his son was also a FHS graduate and a proud Quaker, and that he's a true Inner Southeast Portland "local", with his education, and that of his brothers, having started at Woodstock Elementary School.

"There are many of us who believe that changing our school's nickname has far less widespread support as some would say," Earnest told THE BEE.

He pointed out that no one seems to be offended that a former motor oil manufacturer used the name "Quaker State Corporation", or that a major food producer is called "Quaker Oats Company".

"Going back 102 years, including the 50 years that I've been connected with the school, I have no feeling that Quakers name has a connection to religion; it is an illustrated character on a box on oatmeal," Earnest said.

Earnest also commented that Seattle's Franklin High School, also known as the Quakers, changed their nickname – only to change it back some time later.

"The way I see it, at some point, someone, somewhere, is going to be offended by any name," Earnest said. "If they change the name, be assured that many alumni will be offended, which may affect their support to the school in the future."

The matter is still under debate. But, in the words of the oats' Quaker spokesman, pitching cereal rather than religion, "Nothing is better for thee than me."

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