Austin school board to vote on renaming schools with Confederate ties


After months of debate, the AISD board ultimately decided it is time to bring the issue to vote in two weeks.

If the majority agree to change the school names, AISD will take nominations for new names from the public.

Renaming committees will review the suggested school names, and board could vote on new campus names May 21.

After months of debate, the majority of the Austin school board has agreed to vote Feb. 26 on whether to change the names of five schools that have ties to the Confederacy.

The trustees Monday night debated issues regarding policy changes, financial costs and community input surrounding renaming schools but ultimately decided it was time to bring the issue to a vote. If the majority agrees to change the school names, the district will take nominations from the public and community members, including the campus advisory councils, will review the suggested names. Trustees could vote on new school names as early as May 21.

“I understand this is emotional, but this is a real history full of real pain and real injustice,” Trustee Ted Gordon said Monday night. “This is about human dignity, the actual life of slavery. … There is a direct connection to John H. Reagan and the fact that our black kids are doing 30 and 40 points worse on math and reading. So this isn’t about school pride. It’s about something much deeper.”

The school board will consider whether to rename the following five campuses:

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

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

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

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

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

Trustee Yasmin Wagner said she sees “this as a social issue we can address, and I’m ready to take that on,” but said she, as well as other trustees, said they must weigh the financial impact of changing the names, estimated to be at least $77,000 per school, plus other costs such as uniforms.

Others raised concerns about the lack of community input in the process to rename these schools. When the board voted to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary two years ago, there was a concerted effort among community members, including some school parents, to rename that campus. It is now called Russell Lee Elementary, after the critically acclaimed Depression-era photographer who was a founder of the University of Texas photography department.

“Everything we’ve ever had to do has needed a lot more community participation and favor,” said Trustee Julie Cowan, who said she was not sure whether she would support name changes. “And for us to not take that into account this time around is a little hard for me to accept. … I haven’t heard an outcry from the current students and parents at these targeted campuses like we had from Lee Elementary. So it feels different to me.”

While some Austin residents have gone to the trustees asking for name changes, a few current students said at board meetings they don’t see the need for it. Lanier alumni, those both in favor and against, have emailed trustees. And a Reagan alumna submitted results to an informal survey of fellow alums that showed the majority of the 1,169 who submitted answers did not want to see Reagan’s name changed.

The trustees have clashed over the issue in recent weeks, and Gordon has publicly shamed the board for delaying a vote on this issue. Trustee Ann Teich had asked the three board officers to consider putting on the agenda the censure of Gordon, but, on Monday night, board President Kendall Pace said they didn’t believe his comments violated policy.

“We certainly encourage individual trustees to speak their own truth while in public in a manner that doesn’t denigrate colleagues,” said Pace, reading from the officers’ statement. “The AISD board is currently grappling with subject matter that is complex, that has already caused angst among trustees, but such is our work. It is the officers’ expectation that public discussion, whether in agreement or dissent, will be respectful. And at this time, no trustee will be censured.”

On Monday night, trustees also discussed proposed policy changes that would require all school mascots, nicknames and descriptors to “respect cultural differences and values.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

'Kill the NRA' written across billboard on Louisville interstate
'Kill the NRA' written across billboard on Louisville interstate

A vandalized billboard on a major interstate highway in Kentucky has become a focal point for both sides of the gun control debate in the wake of last week’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. A sign along I-65 in Louisville reads “Kill the NRA,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported....
TRAFFIC ALERT: Train blocking Oltorf, Mary streets in South Austin
TRAFFIC ALERT: Train blocking Oltorf, Mary streets in South Austin

Traffic delays were expected in South Austin on Tuesday morning after a stalled train blocked both Oltorf and Mary streets just west of South Lamar Boulevard. Drivers were encouraged to find alternate routes through the area. Emergency personnel, including Austin police, had responded to an initial report of a pedestrian being struck, but no one has...
BOIL-WATER ALERT: No drinking water at Lake Travis Middle School on Tuesday
BOIL-WATER ALERT: No drinking water at Lake Travis Middle School on Tuesday

A boil-water advisory has been issued Tuesday for Lake Travis Middle School that bars students and staff from using the running water on campus, according to a letter from the school to parents. Under the advisory issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, students and staff will be unable to use water fountains, ice makers, filtered...
Decision day for father trying to save son from Texas death penalty
Decision day for father trying to save son from Texas death penalty

Kent Whitaker, struggling to halt the looming execution of the son who upended his life 14 years ago, should know shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday whether his efforts have passed the first critical hurdle. Whitaker long ago forgave his son, Thomas Whitaker, for setting up the ambush that killed his wife and only other child as they returned to their Sugar...
Should Austin ISD change Confederate school names? Give your input
Should Austin ISD change Confederate school names? Give your input

As Austin district trustees near a vote on whether to change school names with ties to the Confederacy, community members this week will get a chance to give input on the proposal. The public can provide feedback, starting tonight, on school namesakes during two community conversations. District leaders will provide historical context surrounding school...
More Stories