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Austin ISD Board Votes To Change Names Of Schools Honoring Confederate Figures

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and school board members Kendall Pace and Julie Cowan listen to arguments over renaming Austin schools named for Confederate figures.

The Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted Monday night to move forward with renaming five district buildings named for men who served in either the Confederate military or government.

Lanier, Reagan and Eastside Memorial high schools, Fulmore Middle School and the Allan Center will get new names.

The board voted 7-2 in favor of changing the names. Trustees Ann Teich and Julie Cowan opposed the measure.

The district asked theboard to consider these name changes in November. Since then, a variety of opinions for and against the changes emerged from school communities and alumni. 

The East Austin Coalition for Quality Education held a press conference before Monday's meeting, urging the board to change the names.

“When you support policies, programs and initiatives that continue a legacy of racism that we know to be true, anything that is not a statement or act to be anti-racist is a continuation of racism," the group's chairman, Kazique Prince, said. 

Half the public comment centered around the issue.

“We have white-washed our history for too long,” parent Maggie McGiffert said. “We have failed to teach our youth and ourselves the full history of our community. We have left out so many voices in the names of our schools.”

Lanier teacher Medina Willis asked the board to vote against the proposal. Like a few other speakers, she was concerned about spending money on name changes rather than academic and facility needs.

“How can you say that changing names are social justice, yet ignore the inequities that are currently happening?” she said.

Tom Randall, who opposed changing the names, said he felt some of the namesakes, like Zachary Taylor Fulmore, shouldn’t be defined by just his service in the Confederate military.

“He served on the Board of Trustees for the Texas School for the Blind,” Randall said. “He campaigned, religiously, for public schools, free education for all.”

But then it came time for the board to vote. Trustee Ted Gordon put forward the motion.

“Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, I will be the only African-American who has had the opportunity to vote on the appropriateness of naming AISD schools after such Confederate-associated individuals in our district’s history,” he said.

Almost every board member preceded his or her vote with an explanation. Trustee Yasmin Wagner said she was voting to rename the schools because some of them were named during the Jim Crow era.

“What was finally the clarifying moment for me," she said, "was to realize that at the end of the day, this really isn’t about those individual men. It really is about the spirit with which those names were placed on that building, what was happening during the time that those names were appointed to those buildings.”

Others echoed this reasoning.

Cowan, who voted against the name changes, said she felt the district and the board were imposing this change on communities that didn’t ask for it. She called that a “top-down” approach.

Trustee Amber Elenz, who voted for the name change, said she was disappointed with the quickness and lack of clarity in the process

“I’m challenged to understand why the administration did not begin its work with deep, local conversations and soul searching,” she said. “Such an approach could have played an exciting, unifying role in our vision of reinventing the urban school experience.”

Others said that along with changing the names, the district has a lot of work to do in terms of equity for all of its students.

The district will now go to these school communities to get input on what the new names should be. Those naming committees will then present options to the board, which will make the final decision.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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