Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, April 29 @ 4:17 p.m. / Community, Education, Tribal Affairs

Efforts To Rename Margaret Keating Reach DNUSD Board; District To Form Advisory Committee

Parents, teacher and staff at Margaret Keating Elementary School greet kids on their first day of the 2019-20 school year. | File photo: Jessica C. Andrews

The school board’s willingness to consider new names for Margaret Keating Elementary School came as a relief to Josh Norris.

Norris, whose career in education spans about two decades and whose children attended the TK-6 school, asked trustees Thursday to ensure that the advisory committee tasked with bringing recommendations back to them is inclusive of the Klamath community.

“I’ve heard all the stories about Margaret Keating and all of the abuse and racism. This is a great step in the right direction for our school district,” he said. “I want to urge you to consider participation among alumni of Margaret Keating, teachers of Margaret Keating, possibly students of Margaret Keating because they have great ideas as well, and those folks who are lifetime residents of Klamath who have experienced all kinds of history and trauma.”

The Del Norte Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to instruct the superintendent to appoint an advisory committee to discuss renaming Margaret Keating. The Board also agreed to notify the public via the DNUSD website and social media accounts, giving them 30 days to submit recommendations.

The Board of Trustees also discussed an update to its policy governing the naming of facilities. Though the initial policy, approved in 1999, included the use of a citizens advisory committee to review name suggestions, Assistant Superintendent of Business Jeff Napier said administration felt it was best that the process was better spelled out.

Napier asked the Board to waive the full reading and adopt the new policy on Thursday, however trustees felt it needed revisions before they could take a vote.

“Some of the conversations that’s happened around this is do we continue to name things after people at all?” Board President Charlaine Mazzei said in response to a paragraph in the proposed policy that sufficient cause for renaming a school will exist if its namesake was convicted of a felony or a “crime of moral turpitude.”
“Some districts don’t and should we not be making that a thing,” she asked.

The land Margaret Keating sits on was purchased in 1959, according to a DNUSD staff report. Temporary classrooms were built in 1965 and the school was finished in 1966. Located on the Yurok Reservation, the school serves roughly 81 students, 63 percent of whom identify as American Indian, Alaska Native or multi-ethnic, according to DNUSD.

Staff, the Klamath community and Yurok Tribal Council agree that the name of the school “should reflect the location of the school and the culture of the tribe,” the district’s staff report states.

Klamath residents have discussed renaming Margaret Keating Elementary School for a long time, said Georgiana Gensaw, a Yurok tribal member whose youngest is in the second grade.

According to Gensaw, tribal elders — including their “eldest elder” and others who are now in their 80s — remember Margaret Keating as a teacher and a headmistress in the 1930s and 1940s. Many dropped out of school under her tenure, Gensaw told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

“When we talk about generational trauma, what’s going on with our kids, we lose a significant amount of kids between sixth and seventh grade, that transition from here to Crescent Elk [Middle School],” she said. “When we would talk about that, one of the things the older generation would bring up is ‘Well, you sent them to a school that’s named after a woman who would beat our children and lock them in closets.’ That’s often what we would hear when talking about problems at Margaret Keating or why our kids didn’t want to go to school.”

Gensaw, who went to Jack Norton Elementary School in the Hoopa area, said her childhood community’s experience with Norton was different. Norton was a non-Indian man who married an Indian woman and whose descendants are still part of the Hoopa Tribe.

“I grew up thinking of it very differently,” she said, referring to school names. “And then when I came here I found out that Mrs. Margaret Keating, old Margaret Keating, was not thought of very fondly. Several of the elders who had her as a teacher and their parents had horrific experiences with her.”

On Thursday, Margaret Keating alumni and parents echoed Norris’s statements about the advisory committee being representative of Klamath and the school’s history. One speaker, who said she is a trauma coach, asked trustees to consider removing Keating’s picture.

“When students walk on the grounds and look at the picture in question [and ask] ‘Who’s that?’ And then the story is shared about who that is and sometimes the story is unpleasant,” she said. “Does the picture needs to stay there until all the formalities are completed or can you remove the picture for the children and adults so the history is not revisited visually?”

Gensaw said removing the picture is part of not idolizing Keating or white washing history. It’s symbolic of telling the history like it really is, she said. Removing Keating’s picture would be a symbol of removing her ownership over the school.

Gensaw said that early discussions have kicked around replacement names. She compared renaming the school to tribal efforts to reclaim local parks and sacred sites, such as Sue-Meg.

For Klamath and other tribal communities, it’s important for thier kids to see themselves in their school and feel proud of it, she said.

“I put it out there earlier to my community Facebook group, well, what’s the favorite?” Gensaw said. “I had thought we had settled on ‘O Me-nok, the village that is closest to the school site. That seems like the favorite. That is the name of the village that is out in the school yard.”

On Thursday, the school’s new principal Janie Jones let trustees know what Yurok wisdom keeper Walter Lara said the name.

“His take on it was that it is not a matter of renaming Margaret Keating, it is a matter of honoring the names that came before,” Jones said. “The names of the land, the names of the streams, the names of the river, and honoring those names that were there for thousands of years before. That’s what he’d like to see.”


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