AISD to change Confederate school names, even if community disagrees

Austin school district leaders will move ahead to rename five Austin campuses with ties to the Confederacy, even if some school communities push back against the decision.

School Superintendent Paul Cruz told trustees Monday night that while it is early in the process, the district’s intent is to rename the schools. Input from community members would help with selection of the new name, he said.

Trustee Amber Elenz said she wants the district to make it clear to parents, neighbors and staff that leaving the names as they are is not an option. 

“It feels very top down, starting with the board and the superintendent,” Elenz said. “If that is true, be honest. Don’t let people think they have the ability to disagree.

“So, bottom line is we’re changing the names of these schools and we’re engaging the community on how to come up with a new name?”

“Correct,” Cruz said.

The district proposal includes changing the names of the following schools:

• The Allan facility (former Allan Elementary), named for John T. Allan, an officer in the Confederate Army.

• Fulmore Middle School, named for Zachary Taylor Fulmore, a private in the Confederate Army.

• Lanier High School, named for Sidney Lanier, a noted poet who fought for the Confederacy.

• Reagan High School, named for John H. Reagan, the Confederacy’s postmaster general.

• Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston campus, named for Confederate Gen. Albert S. Johnston.

Administrators walked board members through the plan on Monday night. It includes forming naming committees in January, the public submission of names in February and board action in March.

“I find the timeline very aggressive,” said Trustee Ann Teich, who questioned whether the public could be effectively involved over the holidays. “I think we need to be very flexible with this because I think we’re going to have communities who are going to want to have a lot of input.”

Trustees called on administrators to search for any available school board minutes and other information regarding the reasons the campuses were given names with ties to the Confederacy.

READ: Confederate names on Austin schools date back to civil rights movement

“What I come back to every time was what was the spirit in which these names were placed on these schools at that time?” said Trustee Yasmin Wagner. “And it was very much a time of intimidation, a time of reacting to a war that was lost. It was a time of truly placing a name over a door of a building to say who was welcome in that building and who was not. And that is something we do have the power to remove and take away.”

Some trustees also encouraged the district to seek funding from a nonprofit or other partner willing to pay for associated costs of renaming schools, including changing signs, logos on gym floors and uniforms, among other costs. The estimated cost for those changes at the five schools is $322,000.

Trustee Jayme Mathias said Austin is not so progressive, and that other districts across the state “have made much bolder steps than us with respect to the renaming of schools, the removing of Confederate names and symbols.”

Dallas and Houston are among districts that already have changed names of schools linked to the Confederacy.

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