In response to a former student’s call for community support in changing the name of Thomas Jefferson High School, other alumni from the school have created a counter petition to keep the school’s name.
Created by Beverly Richmond, a 1977 graduate of Thomas Jefferson, the petition states:
“We the People from former graduating classes are asking that the name of Thomas Jefferson High School (Auburn, WA) remain as is.”
Richmond said she created the petition because changing the name of the school “would be a great disservice to Thomas Jefferson and to all of us who have attended Thomas Jefferson.”
“Like the signers say time and time again, yes, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but that was over 220 years ago, when that was an accepted practice of the time and Thomas Jefferson was a man torn by the dilemma it created,” she explained.
She said keeping the name focuses on the good aspects of Jefferson and would encourage people to learn and grow from history.
Since the petition’s creation on July 27, it has since garnered more than 380 signatures.
While the petition to change the school’s name argues the historical figure’s ties to white supremacy and slavery, Richmond’s petition said, “Thomas Jefferson was a man that did many good things for the United States,” noting Jefferson’s contributions to writing the Declaration of Independence, his presidency and his role in creating the Library of Congress.
Richmond also said: “Thomas Jefferson was a man of diversity with interest not only in education, but technology, architecture, horticulture, science, languages and the law. He was a man with many interests and valued education and learning.”
Some of the petition signees advocating to keep the name said changing the name of the school would be erasing history.
“The positive contributions of Thomas Jefferson should not be negated by his character flaws. We are all flawed in some manner,” said Chet Johnson.
Class of 1990 graduate April Thompson said: “DO NOT change the name! We need to stop erasing the past and the mistakes made in the past so we can learn from it and not repeat it.”
Leslie Bosch, a graduate from 1981, said: “Good and bad can be said of most public figures. Let us choose to remember the good and our own good memories.”
The individuals who started these petitions have not reached out to the Federal Way Public Schools district, but Richmond recently sent the petition to keep the name the same to the district, said Kassie Swenson, chief of communications for FWPS.
“We have only heard from a total of three individuals that are former TJHS grads related to this topic,” she said. Two individuals, including a community leader, are requesting the name stays the same; one individual is requesting a change in the name.
The district’s greatest focus right now is engaging with scholars, parents and staff to prepare for a high quality remote learning experience when school resumes in the fall, Swenson said.