Community group demands Ravenswood school district retain Cesar Chavez name

City Councilman Ruben Abrica, school board officials, parents among attendees

The name of the new middle school that will operate at the Cesar Chavez Academy campus in East Palo Alto will be the chief topic of a community meeting organized by the Latino advocacy group Comunidad Unida on Thursday night.

Questions about whether the school, located at 2450 Ralmar Ave., would be renamed or divided into two separate school campuses started circulating in the community when a sign for Ravenswood Middle School, which is also located on the campus, was hung outside the campus, according to East Palo Alto City Councilman Ruben Abrica. He then sent a letter to the Ravenswood City School District's Board of Education in June opposing the idea of removing Chavez's name. Abrica has been investigating the situation on behalf of Comunidad Unida.

"The Cesar Chavez name has been a source of pride and connection to broader issues," Abrica said, adding that Chavez's family is aware of the controversy and also opposes removing the name of the late labor leader and activist. "It would be a step backwards, and it would be insulting to remove a name like that," he said.

Board of Education President Tamara Sobomehin said the only sign other than the main Cesar Chavez Academy marquee that she is aware of is a banner announcing that the 49ers Academy (serving students in grades 6-12) would be moving to Ravenswood Middle School, which she believes may have sparked the confusion.

The name Ravenswood Middle School came about after the district's decision to consolidate the six different middle schools in the district into one. It was a temporary, working name for the new school, according to Sobomehin, but the board has not yet discussed or voted on a permanent name.

Since Ravenswood Middle School opened in 2017, it has been sharing the campus with Cesar Chavez Academy, but this fall will mark the first year that the school will operate as only one entity, exclusively serving sixth- through eighth-grade students, Sobomehin said.

The board now plans to discuss what the official name of the school will be at the next board meeting, set for Aug. 8, according to Sobomehin.

"We won't necessarily be voting on anything at that time, but we will be starting the conversation around the best process to engage the community, families and stakeholders to determine a formal name and clear up any misunderstandings around what's going on with the site," she said, adding that she understands the significance and importance of Chavez's legacy and agrees that it would be ideal to "find a way to continue to celebrate and honor Chavez's work."

Sobomehin and interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria both said they plan to attend Thursday night's Comunidad Unida meeting to hear residents' concerns.

In addition to the name debacle, Abrica said parents have also raised concerns about how the district plans to transition students into a new environment. He said the district has not shared what resources or programs, if any, the school will offer to help students adjust socially and academically.

"We want to know what the district's plans are for the school, itself," Abrica said.

Thursday night's meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at East Palo Alto City Hall located at 2415 University Ave. inside the community room. It is open to the public, and there will be bilingual translations in English and Spanish.

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