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Proposal to rename Portola Middle School generates controversy

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, June 20th, 2014 at 12:22 pm in Education, El Cerrito, Walnut Creek School District.

Some El Cerrito residents are raising questions about a proposal to rename Portola Middle School in El Cerrito after Fred J. Korematsu, the late Japanese American civil rights activist.

Supporters faced off against opponents Tuesday at the second of four community meetings focused on the proposal, according to a story by correspondent Rick Radin.

Several Japanese-Americans spoke in favor of the name change at the Fairmont Elementary School meeting, while some other residents favored keeping the current name or renaming the school after El Cerrito benefactor Sundar Shadi or Spanish pioneer Don Victor Castro. The new Portola Middle School is being built on the site of the former Castro Elementary School.

District resident Ray Dennen called our newspaper to elaborate on concerns he expressed at the meeting. He questioned the neutrality of a committee evaluating the proposal, which includes Board President Charles Ramsey, a strong supporter of the name change.

Ramsey suggested the name change and the board voted to refer the proposal to a three-person committee on May 14. The board could vote on the proposal next month.

But Dennen said he and some others who think the district is moving too fast may ask the board on July 25 to postpone the decision until the fall, since many area residents are on vacation during the summer.

District spokesman Marcus Walton said Ramsey supports the proposal to educate students about standing up to injustice. But Dennen says he’s not satisfied that the district has made a compelling case to rename the school. And, if there is a community consensus to rename the school, he said the community should be able to choose between several options, instead of just one.

Portola is currently housed in portable classrooms on the site of the original 61-year-old campus, which was torn down in 2012. It is bordered by Navellier Street, Portola Drive and Moeser Lane. The new school will be located at 7125 Donal Ave. in El Cerrito.

You can weigh in at two remaining community meetings: at 7 p.m. June 26 at Harding Elementary, 7230 Fairmount Ave. in El Cerrito; and at 7 p.m. July 1 at Stege Elementary, 4949 Cypress Ave. in Richmond.

More information is available by calling 510-231-1151 or by visiting The district has posted 26 pages of comments received so far, but omitted those without names, due to the abusive nature of some calls.

Do you think Portola MS should be renamed for Korematsu?

Correspondent Rick Radin contributed to this report.

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