A Federal Way district school in Kent has been renamed as Evergreen Middle School in accordance with state law to remove inappropriate use at public schools of Native American symbolism.
The Federal Way Public Schools Board of Directors voted Nov. 9 to change the name of Totem Middle School, 26630 40th Ave. S., and its nickname of the Thunderbirds. Although located in the city of Kent, the school is part of the Federal Way district.
“We are proud to move forward with this new name in an effort to help undo the disrespectful use and cultural appropriation of Native American identity in our community,” the district wrote in a statement.
Built in 1963, the school is nearing completion of a full rebuild and is set to reopen to students in January.
The school renaming process was sparked by House Bill 1356, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in April, which prohibits “inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols, or images as public school mascots, logos, or team names,” according to the bill.
The name Evergreen Middle School was suggested by a student, according to the district, though input was received by teachers, community members and local tribal leaders via a School Renaming Committee.
Over 430 name suggestions were submitted, which were then narrowed down by the committee to the top 14 names. About 508 people voted in the second round, narrowing the list to the final three names for students to vote on.
Students voted for Evergreen, West Hill and Steel Lake as their first, second and third choices, respectively. Honoring student voices, Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer brought the students’ top choice as her final recommendation for the board’s approval.
The district is hosting a renaming celebration and healing ceremony Dec. 10 at the school. The event is open to the public and more details will be shared closer to the celebration.
In January, the newly built school reopens to students, along with a new name and a new mascot, which will also be nominated by students.
There are several similarly named schools in the Puget Sound region, including Evergreen Middle School in both Redmond and Everett, Evergreen Elementary School in Spanaway and Evergreen High School in White Center.
In Federal Way, three other middle schools use Native American imagery and will undergo a similar new mascot process: the Illahee Braves, Sacajawea Warriors and Woodmont K-8 Thunderbirds.