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Norwalk residents call on Board of Education to change name of Columbus Magnet School

Columbus Magnet School. (File photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — More than a dozen Norwalk residents, as well as community members who work in the city, called on the Board of Education to begin the process of changing the name of Columbus Magnet School.

“Over the past eight years, I’ve been a part of the Columbus Magnet School family and tonight I’m here speaking as a Columbus Magnet School mom and as a multiracial woman with Indigenous roots,” Sharon Baanante said. “I’m here to ask for your support in changing the name of Columbus Magnet School.”

Juliette Ochoa-Vanegas, a student at Sacred Heart University, Norwalk resident, and a graduate of Columbus Magnet School, said that one of her favorite memories at Columbus Magnet School was the cultural fair, which highlighted students’ traditions, music, dance, art, and food. Ochoa-Vanegas said that image of diversity didn’t match the name of the school.

“It is vital that the Board of Education recognized Hispanic Heritage Month,” she said. Columbus Magnet and the Norwalk Public School system fosters the minds of so many young and impressionable black and brown children. With that being said, I urge you to change the name of the school now more than ever, Christopher Columbus colonized and committed atrocities on different lands, lands where many students are from.”

Many of the speakers said that they weren’t aiming to rewrite or erase history, but rather put it in the proper context.

“The name of Columbus Magnet School is a daily reminder to many of us of a false narrative that has been silently and willfully ignored by an educational institution for 82 years,” Baanante said. “Many will say that we want to erase history, I say that we only want to tell the story the way it should be told.”

Alejando Vasquez, a freshman at American University, who went through the Norwalk Public School system, including Columbus Magnet School, said he was involved in a petition to remove the statue from Heritage Park that was done earlier this summer.

Vasquez said the next step should be to get “rid of Columbus Magnet school name and change it to something that’s equitable and fair for everyone that attends it, because it’s a majority BIPOC school.”

Matthew Danzer, a current resident of Fairfield, who formerly lived in Norwalk and currently volunteers with the Norwalk Immigration Coalition, said the school system shouldn’t glorify someone who committed atrocities.

“While our schools should continue to teach Columbus’s historical contributions, the good, the bad and the ugly, we should find a better use for the names of our schools than to raise up such a figure,” he said. “The school’s name must be changed to respect those in the community for whom the name brings great pain and to recognize values.”

Farah Marin, a resident of Norwalk, said that students at Columbus Magnet are taught conflicting lessons as they see the diversity of students at the school, but also must grapple with the name.

“So what does it mean when your community is named after a man who caused harm and tried to eradicate the native people from the very land you’re standing on today?” she said. “What does it mean when your school is diverse and multicultural but is named after a white supremacist? It means that early on, students are given two conflicting messages—one that you’re valued and two, that a man that hated brown folks represents your school…It is time to show our students that Norwalk values diversity and the Indigenous and Latinx community are important. It is time to change the name of Columbus Magnet School.

Board President Sarah LeMieux said that the Board of Education had already indicated that it would support the Columbus school community to begin the process of a name change.

“I should say that the board has already expressed support for the Columbus community to begin the process of changing the name. So we are very much on the same page. It’s the time to examine this and have the CMS community begin the process of choosing a name for themselves.”

LeMieux and Columbus Magnet School Principal Medard Thomas said that the first step is discussing it with the Columbus School Governance Council.

“There’s a procedure for names to be changed by schools in the district and the school governance council, asks the Board for support and the Board says, ‘yes, we will support you,’” she said. “So that’s the procedure that has to be initiated.”

Thomas said that his attention and priority have been on reopening the school safely for students and staff, but that the discussion surrounding the name would begin with a School Governance Council meeting on Oct. 27.

Mayor Harry Rilling, who was in attendance at the meeting, said that legal counsel may have be to be brought in for the name to be changed.

“We would need also to bring in legal counsel for how the process for any potential name change must take place, so obviously that is the city building and the city has to have a process in place for any potential name change that may be recommended,” he said.

8 comments

Long time Norwalk resident September 17, 2020 at 8:02 am

I attended Columbus school many years ago. I do not support this ridiculous endeavor. Does anyone care? Is anyone listening?

Constitution State September 17, 2020 at 10:12 am

“More than a dozen Norwalk residents, as well as community members who work in the city, called on the Board of Education to begin the process of changing the name of Columbus Magnet School.”

More than a dozen in a city of 90,000. Quite an upswell of support. Do you think you could find more than a dozen who’d take the other side of this issue?

Norwalker September 17, 2020 at 10:44 am

When does this end? Every race and population, including the indigenous people, committed atrocities against other populations. Nearly every, if not every race and population has engaged in slavery. One race or generation does not matter more than any other. Things were done in this worlds past that at the time seemed right and were tolerated. Stop holding people today accountable for atrocious, yet acceptable, acts from centuries ago.

Michael McGuire September 17, 2020 at 3:27 pm

Please don’t change the name of Columbus Magnet School. My reason.

I don’t understand the WOKE need to selectively make changes to our (not mine) our history. Please add to our historical body of knowledge, just don’t delete from that same body of knowledge while doing so. That will only divide us further.

Remember that in 1492 subjection of literally everyone on the planet was the norm. There were not courts of law readily in place. There was more the ‘social norms’ dictated by the whims of the wealthy ruling class and to which the rank and file had to adhere. You brought your issue to the king/chief/domo/lord/honcho or whatever they called the local ruling elite. Step out of line on any continent then and you paid a hefty price, often with your life.

Color or race were not an issue, your economics were and still are. Whether you were an African tribal woman enslaved by a victorious rival tribe, or a Polish peasant captured by the Islamic incursions into Europe (or visa versa), European feudal caste system, or the Huron-Mohicans tribal warfare and the ensuing slavery closer to home. That’s how thing were in the days of old. That was literally the social norm.

Or how about the warlike Caribes from the southern Caribbean enslaving the more docile Arawak’s in the northern Caribbean. Let’s not forget the Inca, Aztecs and Mayans – are they blameless of atrocities? Or the plight of the Japanese villager in the age of the waring Samurai, or the 2,000 years of China’s never ending dynastic in-fighting. Atrocity free? I think not.

Slavery, subjugation, and atrocities exist throughout history, and are alive and well today – it’s just more subtle, usually. No culture is free from being the oppressor, or the oppressed.

So, how about looking at the glass as half-full. Consider that Columbus, a flawed human being like all of us, undertook an epic expedition of huge historical significance at great personal risk. Not to dismiss the contribution of our Gaelic and Norse brothers, but Columbus’s “discovery” by western culture of a “new world” paved the way for the creation of arguable the world’s most powerful, most free, most fair, and most diverse nation every created throughout all of history. No – not Canada. Los Estados Unidos.

Instead of looking to change history by judging a remarkable historical figure by today’s myopic and unobtainable WOKE standards, please tap the brakes and use some common sense.

After all, Columbus did not usher in a 528 years of oppression and subjugation for the Americas, that was already here and thriving when he arrived.

Frustrated Rasta September 17, 2020 at 8:28 pm

This is very sad to read, people think they are so righteous and perfect. Take a look at how all your goods and clothing are made, you don’t think you are exploiting oppressed child labor overseas to enable modern American livelihoods. Look at how we live and destroy the earth in many ways that cannot be corrected, that is everybody’s fault today man.. Look at the millions of dollars Lebron gets from Nike and other apparel endorsements who exploit arduous labor conditions, otherwise known as modern day slavery. Wake up and stop, let history be and stop trying to impose changing the course of how we got here man. People are not any better in their moral decision making in this year of 2020 with all the advancements, yet people are still very flawed in enabling oppressed child workers in impoverished nations for Americans materialistic needs of today.

The kids can grapple with the name, it’s part of the journey, the journey to freedom which people now try to take away with acting fake righteous mon

Red headed movie star September 18, 2020 at 10:37 am

Very well said Michael McGuire. Do not change the name of Columbus School-Columbus needs to be recognized for his bravery and that of his crews to set sail in three small boats and head west to. As a result we have our nation, flawed, just as Columbus was flawed. Should we all leave America and return to the countries of our ancestry to make “remove” Columbus’s discovery? It is the upmost importance to teach history in the context of the events of the time with the good and the bad. I find the removal of the Columbus statue from Heritage Wall WITHOUT DISCUSSION in the community an insult to the Italian Americans that contributed to the statue & had it cast and installed.

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