Spokane Public Schools appears poised for the first renaming of a school building in more than a century.
During a virtual public forum Tuesday night, the district’s board and staff heard impassioned pleas from five people – two principals, two teachers and a student – all urging them to change the name of Sheridan Elementary School.
A decision could come as soon as next week, after which the district will begin the process to find another name to replace that of the Civil War general associated with the comment, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
According to district records, it hasn’t renamed any schools since 1915, when several relocated elementaries were renamed. Prior to that, the old South Central High School was rebuilt after a fire and renamed as Lewis and Clark in 1911.
The campaign to rename Sheridan – the school’s namesake since 1908 – began last summer when Principal Larry Quisano began inquiries with the district.
Last month, Quisano and sixth-grader Kiley Mitchell-Gregg asked the board to begin the process, which continued on Monday night.
“Words matter, and whether we listen to our kids matters,” Quisano said. “Right now I believe is the right time to make things right.”
Quisano yielded to Mitchell-Gregg, who spoke of Sheridan’s efforts to “destroy native villages and food stores.
“He did not care whether women and children died,” Mitchell-Gregg said. “I love my school, but going into a school that is named for a ruthless human being, not so much.”
Brent Perdue, the principal at Logan Elementary in north Spokane, recalled Sheridan’s “scorched earth” campaign against the Sioux and other tribes. “That would be labeled a war crime these days,” he said.
At that point, the speakers took a broader look at school names.
Azalyn Croft, a teacher at Glover Middle School, said Sheridan doesn’t deserve to be a namesake for one of our schools.
Croft also shared research that showed only five district schools are named for women and people of color.
“The research was truly depressing,” Croft said. “However, I can feel the winds of change in this district.”
The district is currently in the process of naming three new middle schools, with women and people of color being well represented among the finalists.
“As a teacher of color, I hope that it makes a shift in our cultural values and that all students feel welcome,” Croft said.
Sean Mills, who has worked as a substitute at Sheridan, described the school as among the most diverse he’s ever seen.
“The name on the building should reflect that,” said Mills, who suggested the name “Unity Elementary School.”
Several other schools in Spokane might be considered candidates for renaming, including Wilson, Jefferson and Roosevelt elementary schools.
Mills, who described himself as a person of color during the virtual meeting, also addressed the push-back question of “Where do we stop renaming schools?”
“It’s a slippery slope,” Mills said. “But it’s good to start at a place with a man who spent his career persecuting and outright slaughtering people.”
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