- By Melissa B. Taboada American-Statesman Staff
The Austin school trustees have backed away from changing Confederate school names at five campuses next month, drawing strong criticism from the only black member of the board.
Trustees were scheduled to vote on renaming the schools in February, but told administrators this week they wanted to postpone any decision and instead develop a clear process for how these school names are changed.
“I think the board has no moral compass and moral spine in terms of wavering on this issue,” said Trustee Ted Gordon, who is one of two board members who are minorities. “It’s the board’s responsibility to decide what is morally correct and try to educate the community in the direction we believe in and not simply sit back.”
Gordon, who was out of the country and missed this week’s meeting, said he was angry the discussion occurred without him and said he would have pushed for a vote to move forward with renaming the schools.
Board President Kendall Pace, who last fall renewed the conversation to rename other schools, said she’s still hopeful the names will still change.
“I don’t think it’s dead,” Pace said. “I think some trustees want to have a rubric to base the decision. I sense the board wants … community recommended criteria.”
Administrators already had a timeline and plan for renaming the schools and had discussed the issue at the campuses with advisory councils and students. But some board members said while the community pushed for the name change for Robert E. Lee Elementary in 2016, that hasn’t been been the case in renaming this group of schools. Some have said the move to make the changes felt too top-down.
The district’s proposal had included 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.
Trustee Ann Teich, who represents the area of the district that includes Lanier High School, said changing the names of the campuses now “is more complicated than most people think.”
She pointed out that the district doesn’t plan to rename Austin High, though Stephen F. Austin owned slaves.
She held up a Lanier scarf, questioning whether she should throw it away because of the name it carries. Likewise, floral arrangements on the dais given to the board for their service were made by Lanier students, and Teich questioned whether they should keep them.
“By some people’s standards, the name on this card contaminates your flowers,” she told trustees.
Board members also said administrators didn’t provide adequate information, including a summary of feedback regarding the proposal to change the names, the challenges and the possible sources of the $322,000 estimated cost.
“Naming a school after a recognized Confederate hero during the Jim Crow era was a significant statement about who was welcome in that school and who wasn’t,” said Trustee Yasmin Wagner. “But where I’m still troubled by this process is that it feels incomplete and somewhat arbitrary at this point.”
Wagner said the district needs a clear policy on when and why it would rename a school.
Other districts across the state, including Dallas and Houston, already have changed names of schools linked to the Confederacy.
Trustee Jayme Mathias also expressed hope for future name changes: “I look forward at the end of the day, taking a stand that says we stand with our students and those persons who for too long have been marginalized by the names of schools.”