Following a petition that garnered more than 1,500 signatures and two well-attended virtual public forums, the Princeton School Board voted on Aug. 11 to remove John Witherspoon’s name from the district’s middle school.
The school will be known temporarily as Princeton Unified Middle School. The board passed a resolution requiring that a permanent name for the school be selected by June 30, 2021. “The renaming process offers a unique learning opportunity for PPS students, and plans are underway for their participation,” the district noted in a statement announcing the name change.
At its July 28 meeting the board had voted against the change, citing a need for more information before making a decision. But residents had a new chance to present their case at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Public Equity Committee, and more than 50 people joined the evening Zoom call to discuss the issue.
In addition to the name change the board is also looking to add racial literacy courses to its curriculum for pre-K through first grade that will be expanded to all grades in future years. Princeton High School already offers a racial literacy course but is piloting an online version of the class.
Geoffrey Allen, a Princeton Public Schools alumnus, started the Change.org petition seeking the name change in July due to Witherspoon’s history as a slave owner who opposed abolition. He posted an update on the site on Aug. 12, after the board voted to rename the school at its regular meeting. “Once again we proved to them that our movement was a bipartisan effort and that change was inevitable. As of last night, the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education finally understood our words,” he wrote.
“It has been great to see current students, alumni and parents of the community come together to make this vision happen. I would also like to thank the many from outside the public schools,” Allen’s post continues. “Your empathy for our cause will not go unnoticed. I hope that this event in my community may inspire you to pursue change in your own local community and maybe even the world. Black Lives Matter is not just a moment, but a movement. This is just one example of how one can continue the work of activism in small steps that make way for big futures.”