Portland Public Schools Approves Name Change for Jason Lee Elementary School

The Portland Public Schools (PPS) Board has given its approval for the renaming of Jason Lee Elementary School, marking a significant step towards embracing a more inclusive and representative identity. Principal Alma Velasquez expressed her enthusiasm for the change, stating, “We are not a school represented anymore by the ideals and values of Jason Lee. We’re so much more than that.”

Located on Northeast 92nd Avenue, Jason Lee Elementary School was originally named after Jason Lee, the first Christian missionary who settled in the Pacific Northwest and established schools during the early 19th century. However, recent discussions surrounding Lee’s legacy have shed light on the problematic aspects of his work. According to the Oregon Historical Society, Lee aimed to convert Indigenous tribes to Christianity and assimilate them into western culture, while also promoting white settlements in the Willamette Valley. Colonizers often used this tactic to steal land and to disrupt native cultures.

Recognizing the need to move away from a name associated with a controversial historical figure, the school administration and community have taken the initiative to seek a new name that better reflects their values and aspirations. Principal Velasquez highlighted the importance of selecting a name that inspires positive change and fosters a socially just world.

To facilitate the renaming process, the school plans to establish a committee comprising students who will collaborate on proposing alternative names. This inclusive approach ensures that the voices of the school community, particularly the students who will be directly impacted, are heard and valued.

“We need a name that inspires us to be the change agents we need to be to create a more socially just world,” stated Principal Velasquez. “We want a name that represents not just who we are today but who we can become in the future.”

The decision to rename Jason Lee Elementary School aligns with the growing trend of reevaluating and challenging historical figures’ legacies, particularly those associated with colonialism, racism, or other forms of oppression. By undertaking this change, Portland Public Schools continues its commitment to creating an inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students.

The renaming process is expected to unfold in the coming months, allowing for thoughtful consideration and community engagement. The school administration encourages students, parents, and staff to contribute their ideas and suggestions as they embark on this important journey of redefining their school’s identity.

As Portland Public Schools takes this progressive step towards a more inclusive future, it sets an example for other educational institutions to critically assess the names and legacies associated with their own establishments. By reimagining the names of these institutions, communities foster an environment that embraces diversity and reflects the values of equity, justice, and respect for all.