Austin school district delays renaming schools with Confederate ties


Highlights

Schools with ties to the Confederacy are now expected to have new names by the 2019-20 school year.

A renaming task force has developed recommended criteria for renaming the schools.

The district collected 219 public submissions for the new school names that meet the task force’s criteria.

It will be another school year before five Austin district campuses with ties to the Confederacy get new names.

The school board in February voted to rename the campuses, with the goal of debuting new names when school doors reopen in August. But district administrators have slowed down the process to give time for a 22-member task force to develop criteria for renaming the school sites.

Changing logos and signs prior to the new school year also wasn’t feasible in the short time frame, task force members said. New school names are unlikely before the start of the 2019-20 school year.

The task force — which included students, parents, alumni and district staff members — began meeting in April and has developed new criteria in renaming campuses. Criteria for schools renamed for a person include that he or she is a servant leader; respected for integrity and strong principles; and embodies equity and social justice. Criteria for campuses named for a place include that it has a reputation for being inclusive and is a place that has enduring meaning for people of color, among other things.

RELATED: Search is on for new Austin school names after Confederate names nixed

“We want to make sure our schools represent our common values as a community,” said Kazique Prince, a task force member who also serves as the mayor’s senior policy advisor on equity issues.

The task force has created preliminary suggestions on ways to preserve or handle artifacts containing the old school name.

Campus advisory committees for the five schools will receive the suggested criteria in coming weeks, and they ultimately are responsible for choosing the new names. The task force this fall will review whether the names meet the suggested criteria before they go before the school board for a vote.

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

The district collected 219 public submissions for the new names that met the task force’s criteria. The nominations included naming the schools for Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln, Heman M. Sweatt and Harriet Tubman, among others.

The Austin school board previously renamed another school because of its name’s ties to the Confederacy. In May 2016, after urging from that school’s community, the board renamed Robert E. Lee Elementary School to Russell Lee Elementary School, a name that honors an Austinite who was a critically acclaimed Depression-era photographer.

The issue of whether to change the other school names was debated for months. Austin residents called on the district to change school names after the 2015 church shootings in Charleston, S.C., which killed nine African-Americans and prompted a national conversation about whether Confederate flags and other Confederate symbols belong in public spaces and buildings.

More than 30 Confederate symbols in Texas have been removed since the shooting, including statutes on the University of Texas campus, and in April, the Austin City Council approved renaming two streets that were named for Confederates.

The school board last fall revived talks to rename the remaining schools.

Meanwhile, a charter operator this week renamed its original Austin campus after it discovered the school was named for an officer in the Confederate army. IDEA Public Schools first came to Austin under a partnership with the school district in 2012. After the partnership dissolved, IDEA separated from the district, launched its own campus in Southeast Austin but kept the Allan name.

The Austin district named the East Austin elementary school for Confederate officer John T. Allan. Once officials with the charter operator realized that, they said a name change was warranted. Officials changed its IDEA Allan campus name to IDEA Montopolis, a reference to the surrounding neighborhood.



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