Chicago-area immigration activists are protesting a decision to rename an elementary school after former President Barack Obama because of the Democrat’s record on deporting illegal immigrants, even though the school is currently named after Thomas Jefferson.
The Waukegan, Illinois, Board of Education decided several weeks ago to rename two “controversially” named elementary schools, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School, over concerns that both historical figures supported the practice of slavery. “Renaming committees were formed for each school and included people in the community, students, and staff,” ABC Chicago reported earlier in 2020.
“After a group of more than 80 Jefferson students and community members petitioned the board in June to change the name there, board President Brandon Ewing pushed his colleagues to switch the names of both Jefferson and Webster middle school,” the Chicago Tribune added.
Similar efforts across the country have been met with varying levels of resistance. Many schools and buildings in the Chicago area have been renamed after complaints that their namesake historical figures are no longer acceptable to modern sensibilities, and school districts like the San Francisco United School District have undertaken massive, district-wide renaming efforts in the hopes of scrubbing any controversial reference from school buildings.
The SFUSD effort was tabled indefinitely after parents noted that the “historical research” that helped identify “controversial” school names was less than thorough.
In Chicago, though, the proposed new name for Thomas Jefferson Elementary School — Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary — has hit an entirely different snag. It turns out that, according to “Latinx” members of the Waukegan community, the former president is, himself, a controversial figure.
“The school board heard concerns from the public Tuesday night over one of the finalists in the running to be the new name for Thomas Jefferson Middle School,” ABC News reported. “The country’s first Black President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama is one of the top three choices for the school’s new name but is drawing opposition in the area with a large Latinx population.”
“I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community,” one school board member, who admitted to having been brought to the United States illegally as a child, told the board.
“From the time Barack Obama became President until 2017 when he left, he today is still the highest-ranking president with deportations in our nation,” the head of a local immigration organization told the network. “We feel that Barack Obama did a disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn’t stop the deportations, the way he promised.”
“If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson – one oppressor – the name of Obama is another oppressor and our families do not want to see that name,” she added.
A group opposed to renaming the school after Barack Obama even held a protest outside the school board meeting on Tuesday night, adding to the media attention. Some members have suggested dropping Obama’s name from consideration altogether and, instead, naming the school after the late civil rights icon, John Lewis, or for Cesar Chavez.