Polk Elementary: The Next Step In One Student’s Battle To Rename His School

Editor’s Note: Reporter Kiera Kaiser first introduced us to Malachi Suarez in April when she wrote about his efforts demanding his school district change the name of his elementary school. Three months later, Malachi is continuing his fight and is bringing his demands in front of the Central Unified School District board meeting.

Malachi Suarez speaking to the Central Unified School Board

Malachi Suarez, a youth activist and 4th grader at Polk Elementary, has taken the next step in his fight demanding that his school be renamed.

Malachi presented to the Central Unified School District board on July 27, 2021. With his 10 minute presentation, Malachi dove into the history of James K. Polk, gave a list of suggestions for a new name, and explained that the students of Polk Elementary deserve to be better represented.

In his powerful speech,  Malachi told the board that he feels “disgusted” having to honor a racist’s name every time he mentions his school and that the board has the power to change that for him and his peers. He urged the board to add a vote on the name change to the next meeting’s agenda, saying that the district’s board needs to uphold the values and core principles that Central Unified strives to operate with. 

Many other members of the community commented on Malachi’s presentation, and the majority stood in support of Malachi and his movement.

“James Polk wasn’t a role model then, and he isn’t one now. History is indisputable. We demand that [the board] vote on August 10th,” Crystal Cabrera, Malachi’s mom, commented.

There was some concern from a commenter about what this would cost the district, and whether or not this money could be better spent. Gabriel Suarez, Malachi’s dad, responded to this comment saying, “Money should not prevent [the board] from doing what is right. Malachi is asking you to follow the values of our country and this district.”

Another supporter of this name change asked the board, “Do you believe in your core principles, or are they just words?”

There is no question in the overwhelming support Malachi is receiving from the community, from the support he received at the board meeting to the over 1,300 signatures his petition has received. 

After listening to Malachi’s presentation and the numerous commenters, Yesenia Carrillo, Board President and Trustee of Area 2, recommended creating a committee to survey the Polk Elementary community’s feeling on this matter and the cost it would take to change. After further discussion, it was amended that there would be a district-wide committee, which would be responsible to evaluate all of Central Unified school’s names and mascots and to survey the communities support in the renaming and any costs associated with it. The board carried this motion with only one opposed vote from Area 1 Trustee Jason R. Paul.

Malachi and his family, however, are concerned that the board will only further delay this change, and that they intend to “let it die on their desks.”

“They don’t care that (as a result thereof) they are continuing to indoctrinate our children with white supremacists ideas,” said Malachi and his parents about the result of the board meeting.

Malachi and his family also feel that the board could’ve gotten the Polk community’s feelings on the renaming had they let everyone speak. According to Malachi’s parents, there were numerous Polk students, parents, and alumni that were waiting to be called upon in the online Zoom session to voice their comments. These people were waiting so that they could show the Central Unified board that the Polk Elementary community was in support of the renaming, which was one of the concerns the board had about putting a vote on the next meeting’s agenda.

Malachi said, “[People] were waiting on the phone line and were told that the board would not be taking any more callers and were hung up on.”

In Malachi and his family’s opinion, this shows the true intent of the board. “If they really wanted to determine whether or not there was community support, they would have let everyone speak.”

Malachi will continue his efforts to get his school renamed, and is posting updates about his progress under his petition here.

Kiera Kaiser (any pronouns)

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