Lawrence school board member-elect Rich Minder is questioning the wisdom of naming a West Lawrence elementary school for writer Langston Hughes.
In an e-mail Minder sent to board members, he twice referred to "the ironically named Langston Hughes elementary."
The point, he said, was that the late poet and novelist was black and poor while living as a child in Lawrence and a majority of students at the school named for Hughes were white and well-to-do.
"It was an unwise comment," Minder said in an interview.
Three years ago, the school board honored Hughes by naming the elementary at 1101 George Williams Way after the Harlem Renaissance writer who died in 1967.
Minder's evaluation of the school's name sparked reaction from board members.
"What is the implication?" said Mary Loveland. "White folks can't read black writers' literature?"
The committee that helped select the name sought someone who contributed to the arts, board member Jack Davidson said. Hughes wrote poems, essays, novels, plays and musicals.
"This was an individual who spent part of his life here who was an important person in the arts," Davidson said.
Myron Melton, principal of Langston Hughes, said students at the school studied the writer as part of the curriculum.
"To me, it's not about the composition of students, but rather honoring Langston Hughes," Melton said.
In the e-mail, Minder also shared his opinion about the lifestyle of people living in new homes on outskirts of the city.
He wrote: "We would not choose to live an environmentally, economically and culturally unsustainable lifestyle such as those typically found in the environs of such places as the ironically named Langston Hughes elementary."
Minder, who lives in the 1500 block of Rhode Island, indicated he preferred East Lawrence neighborhoods with "a variety of incomes and races represented." He wouldn't live on the city's west side even if he had a higher income, he said.
Board President Scott Morgan said Minder's remarks suggest he carries social stereotypes "that he might want to consider checking at the door" before taking a seat on the board in July.
Morgan said the district needs a seven-member board respectful of challenges faced by all 10,000 students.
"It needs a school board that views all kids, regardless of their address, as worthy," Morgan said.
Minder raised the Langston Hughes issues in an appeal to the board to reconsider plans for consolidating the district's preschool programs at East Heights School, 1430 Haskell Avenue. The plan, he said, will improperly cluster 4-year-old low-income, at-risk children at one school rather than at four schools scattered around the city.
"I don't think Langston Hughes would support that kind of education," Minder said.