Come August, a north Tulsa elementary school will have both an old and a new name.
Starting with the 2021-22 school year, the Dual Language Academy, a magnet program at 2703 N. Yorktown Ave., will be the Felicitas Mendez International School. But the building the school is in will be known as Ralph J. Bunche, the campus’ former name.
Named for the first Black Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School building was closed in 2011 as part of Project Schoolhouse, a Tulsa Public Schools efficiency initiative that led to the closure of 13 school buildings that year. The school’s early childhood program was relocated to another building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The Dual Language Academy relocated to the building in 2015 after outgrowing its shared space with Monroe Demonstration School.
An Afro-Latina woman originally from Puerto Rico, Mendez and four other families sued their local public school district in Westminster, California, over its segregation policies, which barred Hispanic students from attending. The families won their case in 1946, and the decision was upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a year later — seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation was unconstitutional.
Along with putting the Bunche name back on the building, the school’s principal, Irma Sandoval, said additional steps will be taken to recognize both Bunche and Mendez, including hanging portraits of both in a prominent place on campus, celebrating both leaders’ birthdays and working with Bunche Elementary School alumni to educate current students about the late civil rights leader.
“We want to be purposeful in honoring both,” Sandoval said. “We want to memorialize both.”
Although the renaming resolution included specific items to incorporate the Bunche legacy, several community members and former students objected to having more than one name on the building.
“I do not think her name (Mendez’s) should be on the building,” Eric Jones said. “That’s an awful lot of words in that name. Most people are only going to remember the first few words, then the rest goes in the trash bin.
“I don’t want to see the Bunche name go in the trash.”
In other business, the board voted unanimously to name the auditorium at Nathan Hale High School in honor of former board member Ruth Ann Fate. Fate was on the school board for 24 years, making her the second-longest serving board member in Tulsa Public Schools history.
“Tulsa Public Schools — those words have been said in my house for a very long time,” Fate said. “Thank you all so very, very much for this.”