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No more Oñate: School board votes to change name

The Las Cruces Public Schools board voted in a special meeting Tuesday to rename Oñate High School. (Source: Onate High School Facebook page)

LAS CRUCES – So long, Oñate.

Members of the Las Cruces Public Schools board voted 3-1 with one abstention in favor of changing the name during a virtual special meeting Tuesday.

The school district will have to spend $158,500 to $208,500 to rename Oñate. If the school takes on another “O” name, costs would be reduced.

The school board will discuss the high school’s new name at a later meeting.

The vote came after the school board learned nearly three-fourths of people who responded to an LCPS survey favored keeping it named Oñate High School.

The proposal to change the name of the school comes amid a national conversation about monuments and names of institutions honoring controversial historical figures.

The school’s namesake, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, was colonial governor of Santa Fe de Nuevo México and leader of a brutal massacre of the Acoma Pueblo in 1599. He was eventually banished from New Mexico for his crimes.

School board members Terrie Dallman, Maria Flores and Carol Cooper voted to change the name. Ray Jaramillo voted no, citing the cost of the change and timing. Teresa Tenorio abstained from voting.

“I voted no, not because I didn’t think it needed to be changed, I do think it should be changed but we are facing a budget and we’re dealing with a pandemic in the middle of this. The way it was phrased left me no option to say no on a fiscal responsibility,” Jaramillo said. “If we listen to the survey it was overwhelmingly no, not at this time. I don’t think our district can absorb $200,000 when our students need computers and PPE.”

Tenorio, who became emotional as she apologized for abstaining, said in hindsight she would’ve voted no to changing the name.

“I should have voted with my conscience and I would’ve voted no, and it would’ve hurt me because I want Oñate to be changed and I would’ve waited until the students were ready and there was a majority that was willing to do it,” Tenorio said. “We need to educate them first on their history. I live that history, it’s in my blood.”

Before the vote, Tenorio suggested postponing a decision. Dallman, the school board president, asked OHS principal Jim Schapekahm his thoughts.

Schapekahm, who was recently named New Mexico principal of the year, said he was in favor of a vote because he felt his student body was divided.

“It needs to be decided because of the years I’ve been there it keeps popping up every two years and divides the family a little bit,” he said.

Community input

Roberto Lozano, associate superintendent of equity, innovation, and social justice for the district along with Schapekahm, presented the board with a summary of input retrieved from stakeholders before the vote.

According to the results of a recent LCPS survey, 1,350 people in the community voted to approve changing the name of Oñate High School and 4,129 opposed. A total of 435 students voted not to change the name while 119 voted to change it. The majority of parents, faculty and staff also voted not to rename the school.

Organ Mountain High School or Organ High School were two names that were proposed by Oñate students and community members. Organ Mountain High School received 2,946 votees and Organ High School received 698 votes in the survey issued by the district. Other names suggested by the community included Bataan High School, East Mesa High School, Knights High School and even Obama High School.

Lozano said phase one, or the first year, of rebranding would begin with essential uniforms, bleachers if changed from an “O,” pads in gym with “Oñate” on them, gym floor if changed from “O,” school marquee in front of the school, football scoreboard, arch in front of the school, business cards and letterman jackets. In the second year, costs will include gym chairs, band and choir uniforms if changed from “O” and year three would include all other items including signs and banners.

Before the vote, Maria Flores, vice president of the board, and Tenorio suggested looking into grants to fund the rebranding.

“If we commit to working on that, if that’s something board members can even do, or support a team to do that, I think that will solve part of the problem,” Flores said. “We need to move forward with this, I think this will help the community of Oñate.”

Oñate High School opened in 1988 in what is now Sierra Middle School. The current OHS building opened on the city’s East Mesa in 1993.

Watch the recorded school board meeting at https://livestream.com/lcpstv/sy1920meetings


Jacqueline Devine can be reached at 575-541-5476, JDevine@lcsun-news.com or @JackieIsDevine on Twitter.

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