Name of Burnett Middle School to change amid claims of racism; ‘Korematsu’ one of seven finalists

SAN JOSE — Burnett Middle School in San Jose will vote to change its name this week following a controversy over its current namesake, Peter Burnett, who championed racist policies as the first governor of California from 1849 to 1851.

Community members began the process of removing Burnett’s name from the school in February, citing his efforts while in office to remove black and Native American citizens from the state, and later support for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Students, faculty and parents will vote for one of seven names reflecting influential historical figures in San Jose. The options were whittled down from polls by the San Jose Unified School District’s name change committee last week

Among the list are Jose Manuel Gonzales, the city’s second mayor and member of the Apache Nation; John Heinlen, who rebuilt the city’s Chinatown after a suspected racist arson attack in 1887; Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American civil rights activist who fought against Japanese American incarceration during World War II; and Sofia Mendoza, a Mexican American activist who confronted inequality for Latinos in San Jose.

The school could also be renamed Ohlone Middle School in honor of the Native American tribe that originally inhabited the Bay Area.

Other possible names include Guadalupe River Middle School or San Jose Middle School.

The names will appear in random order for voters in an online voting link from May 6-10. Students and staff will vote in classrooms during the same time period.

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