A public charter school in northeast Denver is the latest institution to nix the word “Stapleton” from its name.
DSST: Stapleton announced Thursday that its students have changed the name of their science and technology academy to DSST: Montview.
The name change reflects a broader movement in the community built on land that used to be Denver’s airport to sever its association with the airport’s namesake, Benjamin Stapleton, who served as the city’s mayor from 1923 to 1931 and then from 1935 to 1947. Stapleton was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who won office with klan support and appointed several fellow klansmen to top city positions.
DSST was called the Denver School of Science and Technology when it opened in 2004. It assumed the name DSST: Stapleton when DSST opened its second campus, in Green Valley Ranch, and there was a need to distinguish the two campuses. “The decision to change the founding campus name emerged as many of our students come to believe that the Stapleton name no longer represents the rich and diverse community our school serves,” according to a news release issued by the school.
Both middle and high school students discussed the name change at length and decided decided on DSST: Montview because Montview Boulevard runs from northeast Denver through Aurora and “Montview is a symbolic name that represents the very real connection that this founding school has to the broader city,” the release states.
DSST Public Schools (DSST), authorized by Denver Public Schools, operates open-enrollment, STEM public charter schools. Students are admitted to DSST by lottery; there are no admissions criteria. This year DSST schools has enrolled 5,600 students at 14 schools on eight campuses. More than 70% of students are students of color and more than 60% qualify for free or reduced price lunch. DSST has also been approved to operate four schools in the Aurora Public Schools District, the first of which will open this fall.
Denver’s Stapleton community is one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the country. The cluster of new-urbanist neighborhoods built both north and south of Interstate 70 was intended, when planned in the 1990s, to encourage integration and inclusivity.
DSST’s announcement Thursday is the latest of several moves over the past few years to remove the Stapleton name and the Klan-connotations that come with it.
In December 2017, the Stapleton Foundation dropped the word “Stapleton” and started calling itself the Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities. In April 2018, the Stapleton Development Corporation voted quietly to call itself SDC, instead. SDC is the mayor-appointed, quasi-governmental agency responsible for transferring the city-owned land to Forest City Realty Trust, Inc., the company that is the community’s master developer.
Forest City has for the past year started taking down some signs bearing the name Stapleton in furtherance of what company officials call a change in its marketing plan.
The name-change movement started when a handful of critics cited Ben Stapleton’s klan involvement in arguing that his name and memory are inappropriate for a place designed, at least conceptually, to encourage diversity. Their voices intensified when Black Lives Matter 5280 starting calling broader attention to Ben Stapleton’s biography via social media in 2015, and over the past four years since an offshoot of that group called Rename St*pleton for All organized a series of forums on why the Stapleton name is so hurtful to African-Americans.
The former mayor’s great-grandson, Walker Stapleton, served as state treasurer for eight years. He won the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in last year’s primary election, but lost to Democrat Jared Polis in the general election. When running for treasurer in 2009, the newcomer proudly touted his great-grandfather’s civic contributions. But in last year’s election cycle, when Ben Stapleton’s KKK allegiances had become far more widely known and controversial, the candidate stayed mum on the issue.