The West Contra Costa Unified School District hosted a virtual grand opening ceremony Thursday for the elementary school that it has renamed after former First Lady Michelle Obama.
The district voted earlier this year to rename the former Woodrow Wilson Elementary School after Obama, while it was already in the midst of a renovation. The renaming comes amid nationwide debates over the naming of institutions and the maintaining of monuments to white men whose records on racial issues don't necessarily warrant their ongoing honorifics.
In the case of Wilson elementary, the school is populated primarily with students of color, and the PTA led a push to rename the school after someone who would be more inspiring to those students.
"No knock on [Wilson]," said Elementary PTA President Maiesha Cole, speaking to KTVU, "but Michelle Obama is more inspirational to today's students, where three out of four students are Latino or African American."
Perhaps Wilson does deserve some knocks, though: He famously hosted a screening at the White House for the Ku Klux Klan-celebrating film Birth of a Nation, saying afterward that the film was like "writing history with lightning." Wilson's explanations of the Klan from a book that he wrote were used in the film itself, though Wilson had publicly denounced lynching as "un-American." Historians argue both that he was and was not a white supremacist, and he did support segregation in government and military offices and cafeterias.
"We believed that a prominent school name that aligns with our new 21st century state-of-the-art facility should also inspire the hopes and dreams of our students and community," the district said in a statement. "Learners at Michelle Obama School develop agency in a learner-focused environment and we believe they should be empowered to be at the center of their own learning... Opportunities to acquire deep content knowledge, innovation and collaboration are created within an inclusive community aimed at developing critical thinkers who produce rich, authentic work."
The Michelle Obama School had its virtual grand opening on a Zoom call that was broadcast on Facebook. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia were in attendance, but, sadly, Mrs. Obama was not.
Elsewhere in California, Panorama City recently named an elementary school after Michelle Obama as well.
The Michelle Obama School may open soon for in-person classes, however it does not seem a date has been set for this yet.
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