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School Board Considers Robert E. Lee Elementary Name Change Ahead of Final Vote

Charlotte Carpenter for KUT News
The Austin School Board will consider a resolution to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School tonight, but some say the move would "ignore the school's historical significance" by doing so.

By the end of this month, the Austin School Board could approve a resolution to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, and the board will review the resolution Monday night before a final vote next week.

Next week's vote comes nearly a year after some neighborhood residents renewed a push to change the school’s name. That push was spurred by a racially motivated shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, that started a national conversation about Confederate symbols. Monday night the board will consider the resolution, but it will not take a final vote. Many people from the neighborhood have already spoken at previous school board meetings about the name change. A majority of the public commenters support a change. Susan Moffatt, a former Lee Elementary parent, falls in that category.

“It’s where they spend the majority of their waking hours for what’s arguably the seven most formative years of their lives,” she says. “The name they see when they walk through those doors matters, and it should be a name that welcomes all children and families.”

The school’s Campus Advisory Council – a group of parents, staff and community members – also unanimously voted to change the school’s name in January.

There are a few people who don’t want to change the name for historical reasons. Others are worried a how a name change would affect Austin ISD’s ability to preserve the school's facade: They want to preserve the school’s Art Deco lettering. Caroline Roberts believes the school should be a historic landmark and wants the board to give the city’s Historic Landmark Commission time to consider the school for landmark status.

“Extra time will cost nothing, but a quick decision to change the name and ignore the building’s historical significance would be very costly to future generations,” Roberts says.

It’s unclear how much it would cost to change Lee Elementary School’s name. If the board approves the resolution, the district would then determine potential costs. The school has been discussing possible fundraising to pay for the name change.

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