School board reverses itself in a historic vote

School No. 34 named after President Barack Obama

After significant public outcry against the Board of Education’s earlier attempt to name Public School No. 34 after board member Marilyn Roman, the board made a dramatic reversal at its Oct. 19 meeting and chose to name the school after President Barack Obama instead.
The conflict arose in late August when a sharply-divided board voted against naming the school after Obama in favor of naming it after Roman instead, despite a plea from Assemblywoman Angela McKnight who said the community wanted Obama’s name.
Leading a petition drive, McKnight resubmitted Obama’s name for consideration, collecting well over a 1,000 signatures in support.
School 34, a pre-k through eight school located on Kennedy Boulevard in the Greenville section of Jersey City, will join a handful of schools nationwide to be named after President Obama.
Many parents, teachers and students came out to support the naming of the school after the nation’s first African-American president, partly because a large portion of the school population is African-American.
McKnight said she believes the naming of the school would serve as a very strong role model for students who attend the school.

From board meeting to the campaign trail

The renaming of the school has become a key campaign issue in the upcoming Board of Education election. Candidates were grilled at various forums about their position on the renaming of the school.

“We hope our Facebook video from Jersey City United helped with alerting the public to this important vote.” – Matt Schapiro
Most outspoken in favor of the name change was Matt Schapiro, running on Jersey City United ticket.
“We hope our Facebook video from Jersey City United helped with alerting the public to this important vote,” Schapiro said. “Our Jersey City United video from September got more than 5,000 organic views on Facebook. Everyone should be happy that the community prevailed in this matter and we remain perplexed that some members of the current board of education failed to fully appreciate how important community input needs to be in the decision-making process of the school board.”
But the other prominent ticket, Education Matters, also said they supported naming the school after Obama, somewhat deflecting the perception that the two tickets were taking sides. Even the four independent candidates running in the election said they would support naming the school after Obama.

An ethical divide

In August, the board voted 4 to 3 with one abstention to name the school after Roman. But on Oct. 19 the board reversed this with a resounding 7-0-1 vote.
This came after significant public pressure, including from community groups who raised the question as to whether or not any school should be named after a sitting board member.
Board members Gerald Lyons and Marilyn Roman, who previously voted to name the school after Roman, reversed their vote and voted to name the school after Obama.
Board Member Lorenzo Richardson abstained. Vice President John Reichart, one of the key supporters of Roman’s name for the school, was absent for the vote, but later commented:
“To be clear, I never had any opposition to the naming and I was deeply moved to watch the community rally around Assemblywoman McKnight,” Reichart said. “My only opposition and my vote against the naming was an expression of dissatisfaction with the manner in which the naming committee process was executed. I’m thrilled to have been part of naming a Jersey City Public school after our president and I congratulate Assemblywoman McKnight and the PS 34 community on a job well done.”
The August vote also became part of an internal conflict between members, each of whom suggested there might be other motives for refusing to vote for Obama.
Reichart was accused of being a registered Republican who allegedly supports Donald Trump for president, two allegations he said later were false.
“I am a registered Democrat,” he said. “I actually wanted to name another school after the president. But the school wanted another name.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at

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