Columbus Title Change Inches Ahead In Contentious Assembly

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MEDFORD, MA – Medford Public Schools are now accepting proposals for an advisory committee to consider renaming options for Columbus Elementary School. The school committee voted to create the committee after a marathon – and sometimes controversial – meeting on March 10th.

“There will certainly still be a section of our population who will not agree with the change at all, no matter what we say or do,” said Paulette Van der Kloot, member of the school committee, on Wednesday. “And that’s because they feel like something is being taken away from them.”

The school’s renaming has remained divided since the school committee approved the change last June. Van der Kloot said members received 96 letters and one petition with 396 signatures in support of the change, versus three letters and one petition with 650 signatures against it.

Part of the setback has come from Medford’s Italian-American residents, who feel that an icon is being stolen from them.

“It’s not just about being Italian and taking it from the Italian community,” said Sharon Deyeso, a Medford resident. “It’s like a witch hunt.”

Deyeso cited the urge to remove Confederate monuments and re-examine historical figures honored in other parishes: “Somebody must have said, oh, we’d better look at Medford.”

Residents also criticized pushing the renaming as the district works to accelerate the return of students to face-to-face learning.

“I understand where everyone is from,” said former school committee member Ann Marie Cugno. “My position is that the education officer will give you the timetable for when our kids should go back to school. There is so much to really think about.”

School committee member Paul Ruseau, who, along with Melanie McLaughlin and Mea Mustone, initiated the resolution to rename the school, received some of the more targeted attacks on Wednesday evening. Ruseau’s comment last June that he would vote on the subject “if literally every person who wrote to me said not to change that name” was a passionate opponent of the move.

“I’m talking to you, Mr. Ruseau, I’m talking to you,” said Resident Diane Abramson. “Because I find your behavior reprehensible. And I just can’t understand what’s going on in Medford town, what’s going on with the school committee’s common sense.”

Ruseau made a distinction between educating students about historical atrocities and honoring the people who committed them. He brought up the Holocaust cleanup for younger students to answer questions about how it can be convenient for the district to teach children about Columbus without naming a school.

“When we teach kids about the Holocaust in our education system, I don’t think we’re actually teaching our first graders anything about the stoves,” Ruseau said. “I hope that doesn’t happen in our first grade classrooms, but we teach it. But we don’t name anything after these people either.”

In order to educate students exactly about Christopher Columbus, teachers would have to explain to third grade girls “how they were sold into sex slavery,” said Ruseau.

“This is not a real curriculum where I would send my kids to Columbus Elementary School if we taught them that,” he said. “And that’s what we’d have to teach them if we were to teach them the truth.”

Ruseau also hit back against claims that he “led all these women on the committee to the slaughter”.

“It’s so obvious that sexism is incomprehensible,” he said. “Each of these people chose their own path.”

Many residents also spoke out in favor of the change. Former Columbus PTO member Rachel Rockenmacher applauded the school committee for solving the problem. She said when her child was in school there were students who refused to buy t-shirts and gear that were named Columbus.

“I think it’s important not to honor people who don’t deserve to be honored,” said Rockenmacher. “It’s nothing against Italians or Italian-Americans. There are plenty of other Italian-Americans or Italians to be honored.”

Kelly Cunha said an Italian-American, long-time Medford resident supported the name change. Her 3 1/2 year old daughter already knows Columbus “wasn’t a good guy,” as did her 92-year-old grandmother, she added.

“That doesn’t mean that [Columbus] is gone forever, “said Cunha.” We can still learn about him. In the historical context, there is a lot to discuss about what is important. But that doesn’t mean it has to be praised for a school name. “

The school committee voted to set up the Columbus Elementary School renaming advisory committee, which will review all residents’ suggestions and select three finalists for review.

The school committee is expected to vote on a new name in the spring.

Those who are interested in a The seat on the Advisory Committee for Renaming Columbus Elementary School should complete this form or contact the superintendent’s office for a hard copy.

Applicants can too Complete this voluntary demographic surveywhose information is not used in determining the committee.

Residents You will be asked to submit the proposed new names for Columbus Elementary School by completing this formregardless of whether they want to serve on the committee. You can obtain printed copies of the form from the superintendent’s office.

All committee membership applications and new name suggestions must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. Friday, April 16.