Middletown Divided Over Renaming of Middle School

The concerns surround the idea of renaming Woodrow Wilson Middle School to Beman Middle School.

A proposal to change the name of a Middletown middle school is causing a divide between those in town.

Earlier this month, the Board of Education unanimously approved to recommend that President Woodrow Wilson’s name be replaced from Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

In the October 2 meeting, former graduates attended the special session to voice their concerns.

Supporters who want to keep the name Woodrow Wilson on the school say it’s part of it’s legacy.

Former graduates want to honor the contributions of President Wilson to the town who lived in Middletown for a short time, taught at Wesleyan University and fought for women’s voting rights.

Common Councilwoman Deborah Kleckowski is a former graduate and believes the school legacy may be lost if the school name is changed.

“The name is important because we merged and we no longer have a Woodrow Wilson name attached to our sense of belongingness and our sense of history,” said Kleckowski.

Those opposed believe the former president’s support of segregation and documented racism don’t represent or align with the town’s future of creating a more inclusive community.

Edward Ford Jr. attended and graduated from Woodrow Wilson Middle School back in 2011 and says that changing the name to Beman Middle School is a great step to inclusivity.

“The new name will represent a family who fought for freedom who fought for equal rights and not oppressed the rights of certain individuals,” said Ford. “We want a name that represents freedom, equity and a more diverse community like our great town.”

The name comes from the Beman family, who lived in the town and worked with the underground railroad to help free slaves who were escaping captivity. The family were abolitionist who led the charge to advocate for equal rights. According to Historian Jennifer Lee James, the Beman’s were members of the first generations of freed slaves who worked to close the gap between their ancestors and their future linage.

Construction is underway for Middletown’s $87.35 million construction project set to be completed by 2021, with classes set to start in the fall of 2021.

Kleckowski says a sense of school pride would be loss if the name changes and also notes that the board of education are failing to follow a city ordinance.

“The protocol would be to come to the Common Council first because they have the sole authority for the naming committee,” said Kleckowski. “The Common Council would then have to write an ordinance to have a naming committee.”

However, the Board of Education says they are only sending the Common Council a recommendation for the name change.

“The Common Council has the final say so, but it’ll be at least a community conversation that would be something that won’t divide us so much,” said Ford.

The Board of Education is expected to forward the name change proposal to the Common Council in a Tuesday night meeting.

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