UNION CITY -- The New Haven Unified school board has become the nation's first to name a campus in honor of Filipino-Americans, but the renaming process, deemed murky and rushed even by supporters, has left the school community divided.
The school board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to rename Alvarado Middle School Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School after Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, who helped organize the farm labor movement with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. The idea seemed a good fit for Union City, where one of every five residents and one of every three students is of Filipino heritage.
But Lance Nishihira, a Union City parent who opposed the name change, said the school board did not follow its established policy, which says a renaming should occur only after a thorough study. And by disregarding a significant part of the city's opinion, Nishihira said the board opened community wounds that won't be easy to heal. "The damage has already been done, and we have learned that we now need to keep an eye on this school board," he said.
School board member Michael Ritchie, who voted against the name change, said the "acrimonious situation" could have been avoided if school board President Linda Canlas had communicated better with the school's parents and neighbors.
Canlas did not return messages left Friday seeking her comment for this story.
"I'm particularly disappointed in our board president that she didn't try to find a way to help mend the community rather than create this problem that we now have," said Ritchie, whose proposal to name other buildings after the labor leaders was rejected Tuesday by board members.
Canlas started the process in January, when a committee was tasked with providing renaming options for Alvarado Middle School. The school was targeted because Juan Bautista Alvarado -- a 19th-century Mexican governor -- is well-represented in Union City, where a neighborhood, an elementary school, two streets and a park already carry his name. The Filipino-American community -- thwarted in past efforts to honor Itliong and Vera Cruz -- jumped on the issue, holding rallies and packing school board meetings to show visible support.
Starting in September 2015, the school will be called Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School.
The city's Filipino-American community has pledged to raise money to pay all of the renaming's fees. Originally estimated to cost $10,000, school district officials now say the tab will be about $15,000, and an additional $25,000 in school uniforms and other inventory will have to be replaced.
Kari McVeigh, New Haven's superintendent of schools, said the price has grown because the school has more signage and inventory to replace than previously estimated.
McVeigh said she has faith that any community divisions can be healed. She has scheduled a meeting next month between Filipino-American leaders and school site administrators. "When people sit down and talk, they can hear each other and move forward," she said. "Regardless of how people feel the process went, having schools that represent our diversity is always a great thing."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.