Commentary: Time is right to remove Confederate names at AISD schools

It’s time for the Austin ISD Board of Trustees to resolve the issue of schools named for Confederates by voting to begin the process to rename five schools—Reagan, Lanier, Johnston, Fulmore and Allan—in its meeting tonight. The community has been engaged in conversations on this issue for years. The district must now catch up and demonstrate that its stated core values of “equity, diversity, and inclusion” are more than just an empty slogan.

It’s time to end debate over whether the namesakes’ personal actions exculpate them from the sins of the Confederacy for which they fought. Instead, it’s time to be honest about when and how their names were used against people of color to uphold segregation.

For example, Allan and Fulmore were named during a period of consolidation during Jim Crow and white supremacy in schools and in the larger society; the names were selected in accordance with that consolidation. Named during the Civil War Centennial (1960-1965), Reagan, Johnson and Lanier were part of the “With All Deliberate Slowness” project of AISD in the decades following Brown v. Board of Education in which Austin and its school board resisted desegregation.

By renaming the schools, the board and the district have an opportunity to engage the community in meaningful, ongoing conversations about history and race, while modeling intended values for current and future students. As an organization whose mission is education, AISD can educate our larger community about its history. Renaming the schools comes with a cost, yet the district should recognize that this is a valuable investment of district resources.

Considering new names that could honor marginalized peoples whose contributions to our community have been ignored and even intentionally erased encourages a collective project of accurately reflecting our city’s history through truth and reconciliation. This project has great potential to transcend history curriculum into developing students’ social emotional learning and leadership skills.

We understand that change can be challenging. However, when we watch other Texas school districts commit to these type of changes, and, closer to home, when we see Confederate statutes removed from the University of Texas campus, we can’t help but question why progress cannot be made on this issue in AISD.

Many in Austin who are focused on the enduring equity issues affecting the schools are concerned the renaming process may distract from those issues. This concern is real; however, the district should recognize that renaming the schools is but one part of the larger work to address the enduring equity issues and disparities in our district and city and should be resolved as a part of this larger, necessary work. Our hope is that trustees will be on the right side of history Monday.

Banks and Mims are co-chairs of the East Austin Coalition for Quality Education, School Renaming Work Group.

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