Days after the only black member of the Austin school board was criticized for publicly calling out his peers for delaying a vote on changing school names with ties to the Confederacy, more than a dozen parents, educators, lawyers and community leaders have formed a work group to push the changes forward.
The group of 15, formed by the East Austin Coalition for Quality Education, said it will conduct research, engage the Austin community and develop strategies to create a name-changing process for Austin schools. Several of the members in the group have experience conducting historical research, lobbying and advocating for social justice issues.
Group members said they hope their efforts — which will be independent of school administrators’ work on the issue — will help inform the work of Trustee Ted Gordon in his advocacy for changing the names of five schools.
Gordon said forming the work group was not his idea. However, he added, “it’s not a bad one.”
“I welcome any and all Austinites who are interested in this issue and interested in fast-forwarding the efforts to name our schools in ways that are consistent with our values,” Gordon said.
In November, Austin district administrators said they planned to move ahead to rename five Austin campuses with ties to the Confederacy. Trustees had mixed responses, with a few saying they felt the change was important and others calling the timeline aggressive and the decision very top-down.
Gordon has become increasingly vocal about changing the names of those schools. Nearly two weeks ago, he blasted fellow board members, saying they had no moral compass for delaying a scheduled February vote on renaming the schools. But the trustees said they first want to develop a process for how the school names are changed.
Last week, Gordon raised the issue again during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech.
Trustee Ann Teich fired back in a text message, calling Gordon “a coward” for taking public stances instead of having the conversations with his fellow board members. Two days later, she asked trustees to place an agenda item at a board operations meeting to consider censuring Gordon. Board President Kendall Pace said that is unlikely.
On Tuesday, Pace had not yet heard of the work group but said the district had asked for community input.
“I think it’s going to inform our work,” Pace said.
On Monday night, several community members addressed the board regarding the issue, arguing for and against possible renaming.
Lanier High School student Victoria Warner said the district should be focusing on improvements to the building and resources for the students, instead of renaming the school.
“I don’t think you are really thinking about the kids at the school,” she said. “I think you’re focused on the big controversy about the Confederacy, not core values or what is best for students.”
Community activist Rocio Villalobos, who is one of the 15 group members, told the board Monday night that the names chosen for institutions represent and reflect certain values.
“It says a lot to students who maybe already don’t feel welcome, who maybe already feel disrespected in so many ways in the community,” Villalobos said.
The board is scheduled to discuss the issue again on Feb. 12 during a board work session.
Disputed campus names
The administration’s proposal, which is now on hold, had included changing the names of the five schools, including three high school campuses:
• 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.