Allentown, Pa. board tables naming school after Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays
By JACQUELINE PALOCHKO | The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) | Published: May 1, 2020
ALLENTOWN, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — The Allentown School Board tabled the name for the new elementary school after community members expressed concern that the suggestion does not reflect the district’s diverse student body.
Thursday night, the district was asking the board to vote on naming the new school after Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays — an Allentown School District graduate who was the first female general in the Army. The new school would have been the first Allentown School District building to be named after a woman.
But before the vote took place, a few people said they are worried the district’s name suggestion doesn’t reflect the student body. About 72% of the district’s 17,000 students are Hispanic and 14% are black.
Prominent community leader Gregory Edwards submitted an email that said he hoped the board would table the vote “given the racially rich diversity of the student body.”
Edwards asked that the district reopen the naming process so more parents and community members could be involved.
Allentown resident Phyllis Alexander also submitted an email, saying that out of the district’s 22 buildings, only Ramos Elementary is named after a Hispanic person. She said giving the school a Hispanic name would tell students that they belong and matter.
“No offense to Hays, a woman of white race identity, but I believe the school must be named for a person who reflects the current demographics of our district,” she said.
Allentown resident Sharon Fraser also asked that the district reopen the naming process so the community can be more involved.
“It’s really important that the people who are going to go to that school have a chance to really decide what the name should be,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, the process doesn’t reflect the community.”
When it came time for a vote, the board voted 6-3 to table the name. Directors Charlie Thiel and Nick Miller and board President Sara Brace voted against tabling the name.
It remains unclear what happens now with the elementary school’s name. The board can vote on a tabled item only if a director moves to untable it.
Directors Linda Vega and Lisa Conover said they heard from people in the community that they felt as if they did not have enough time to submit a name.
In December, the district asked the community for name suggestions for the new school and the process was opened throughout January. The district previously said that Hays’ name was submitted as a suggestion. The other two name suggestions that received a number of submissions were President Barack Obama and Russell “Rooster” Valentini. Valentini has worked with homeless children in Allentown for 30 years as the homeless education liaison and will retire this year.
The district had a naming committee that consisted of administrators, staff, parents and students. Brace and director Phoebe Harris also sat on the committee. The naming committee recommended to the board that the school be named for Hays.
When the district first proposed the name at a committee meeting two weeks ago, directors did not say much publicly. At that meeting, director Cheryl Johnson Watts said she thought it was a “wonderful plus” that the school could be named after a woman.
After the vote, Allen High student representative Peter Capote said he hoped the board would vote on the new school being named after Hays, given her accomplishments.
Hays graduated from Allentown High School, now known as Allen High, in 1938. After graduation, she attended the Allentown General Hospital School of Nursing.
She joined the Army Nurse Corps when she was 22 and served overseas during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, according to information from the district.
President Richard Nixon appointed Hays to the rank of brigadier general in 1970.
“It would be appropriate that Gen. Hays would have the honor of being the first woman in our district to have a school named after her,” Capote said.
The 114,000-square-foot elementary school, expected to open in September, will cost around $43 million. Located at 12th and Gordon streets, it will replace both Cleveland and McKinley elementary schools
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