AISD moves to rename remaining schools with Confederate ties by August

Nov 13, 2017
Chris Reichman
Reagan High is one of the schools that could get a new name.

Five Austin school district campuses with names tied to the Confederacy will get new names by August under a proposal by district administrators.

“The time has come that we address this elephant,” school board President Kendall Pace said Monday. “We don’t need schools named for Confederate soldiers and sympathizers.”

Schools to be renamed:

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

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

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

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

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

Campus principals and advisory committees at each of the five schools already have been consulted.

Administrators will begin meeting with community groups and students this month to gather feedback; trustees were scheduled to discuss the issue Monday night.

According to the proposal, naming committees would be formed in January, the public submission of names would begin in February, and the board would vote on the name changes in March.

In May 2016, the Austin school board voted to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary, the first time the district changed the name of a school because of its ties to the Confederacy. After months of community feedback, some contentious, the trustees renamed the school Russell Lee Elementary, after the critically acclaimed Depression-era photographer who was a founder of the photography department at the University of Texas.

That renaming push, like many across the nation, was prompted by the summer 2015 attack on a church in South Carolina, where nine black churchgoers were killed by a white gunman who has been linked to a racist manifesto posted online.

At the time, some trustees said the issue wouldn’t be revived unless people in the community asked to change the names of the other schools. Other Texas school districts, including Houston and Dallas, moved forward with name changes for their campuses.

But in August, after a rally by white supremacists fighting removal of a Confederate monument turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., Pace said she wanted the issue back on the board’s agenda.

In a tweet, Pace said, “Schools named = monuments. The time is now.”

Other board members were reluctant to pick up such a contentious issue until after the referendum on the $1.1 billion bond package, which voters approved Tuesday.

Trustee Ted Gordon, who has long advocated for such discussions to take place, said he’s supportive of changing names and said it appears to be an appropriate process with ample time for public input.

“I’m sure it will be controversial, but it is well within the rights of the school district to decide whether they feel the names of the schools are appropriate or not … regarding how the school district wants itself to be represented and how it wants its community to understand its priorities, goals and position within the community,” he said.

The cost to change the school names, including on buildings, gym floors, marquees and uniforms, is estimated at $322,000, about $77,000 per secondary school and $13,800 for Allan.

After Charlottesville, the Austin City Council and University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves also took action to remove names and likenesses of Confederate figures from public places.

In August, City Council members began paperwork to rename Robert E. Lee Road, near Zilker Park, and Jeff Davis Avenue, near Allandale.

Less than a week after the council’s action, crews worked overnight on a Sunday at UT to remove from the South Mall the bronze likenesses of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Johnston, Reagan and James Stephen Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas and the son of a Confederate general.

A UT spokesman said the removal was done after dark and without warning for public safety reasons, citing the violence in Charlottesville.