The Mountain View Whisman School District will consider renaming Huff Elementary School following a revelation that the school's namesake espoused racist and anti-immigrant views.
The district has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks to change the name of the school, most of it coming from parents with children attending Huff Elementary. They argue that the district should no longer honor a racist leader by having a campus named after Frank L. Huff, and that the school board can set a good example for students by standing up for immigrants.
School board members are scheduled to discuss the possible name change at a special meeting Thursday, July 2.
The source of the community concerns can be traced back to a historical account of Frank L. Huff, which itself dates back to 1922. The biography describes how Huff was born and raised on a farm and attended the "Whisman school," before becoming a teacher and later a principal of grammar schools located in Mountain View. He left his career in public education in 1919, and was appointed the postmaster of Mountain View in 1922.
Where the conflict lies is in Huff's views on race and immigration. The biography describes how Huff was a "stanch (sic) Republican who sincerely believes in America for Americans." He opposed immigration for people who are "out of harmony with American institutions and ideals, particularly those of such blood as cannot be assimilated by the Caucasian race to its benefit."
Huff held the views despite overseeing schools in which many of the students were likely immigrants or the children of immigrants. The profile describes how he had "great faith" in their possibilities as American citizens, but that the faith did not extend to other immigrant groups, with the possible exception of Italian-Americans .
"His objection to foreign immigration is based on duty to our own and our children's children, and a desire to build up a clean-cut American type with similarity in ideals of life and government rather than on the question of the possibility, through our schools and civic life, of bringing the foreigner to American standards," according to the biography.
Many parents learned of Huff's anti-immigrant views on June 19, when Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph sent a message to the school's parents announcing that the school board will consider a name change. He said the district must still do its due diligence learning more about Frank L. Huff's personal views, but that many in the community have already expressed how upset they are.
Huff parent Brooke Heymach Friedman said that many parents were initially caught off guard by the announcement, but have since coalesced around the idea of changing the schools name.
"As soon as they read about him and his racist and anti-immigrant xenophobic behavior, that felt we really need to make a name change," she said.
Parent Chris Ito told trustees in an email that the name change could send a powerful message to students that's consistent with Project Cornerstone, a school program that teaches respect and anti-bullying, showing that the community will not be bystanders to a system that does not support equality.
"Let's not let this opportunity go by to show our children that we won't stand by anything, person or statement, that does not value all lives equally," Ito wrote. "Action here and now will speak to our children louder than 100 Project Cornerstone sessions ever could, as our children learn from our actions more than our words."
If the school board decides Thursday to change the name Huff Elementary School, district officials are expected to solicit public input similar to the process for naming Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School, which opened last fall. The school was named after Vargas, an undocumented immigrant who attended public schools in Mountain View and went on to become a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist.
The realizations about Frank L. Huff and his anti-immigration views mirror those in the neighboring Palo Alto Unified School District, which decided in 2017 to rename David Starr Jordan and Terman middle schools after learning that both men had been leaders in the racist and discredited eugenics movement. The renaming process took years to complete.
The recent discovery about Huff comes at a time of nationwide protests calling for the tearing down of statues depicting people who held racist views, including Christopher Columbus and Confederate leaders. Since the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 25 and the worldwide protests that followed, dozens of statues have been taken down -- some illegally by protesters and others by city and state officials.
To date, statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Confederate soldiers have been removed across the country. In California, statues of Columbus, President Ulysses S. Grant and Junipero Serra have either been removed or toppled.