Ahead Of Vote On Confederate School Name Changes, Community Says They Want The Names To Stay

Feb 22, 2018

The Austin Independent School District met with community members Thursday night to get feedback on whether to change the names of five district buildings. All five buildings were named for people connected to the Confederate military or government during the Civil War.

 

Back in November, the district administration asked the board to consider renaming the following buildings:

 

  • Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus (formerly Albert Sidney Johnston High School)

  • Sidney Lanier High School

  • John H. Reagan High School

  • Zachary Taylor Fulmore Middle School

  • The Allan Facility (formerly Allan Elementary, named after Confederate Army officer John T. Allan)

 

The district hosted two community meetings this week to hear from the public about whether to move forward with the name changes.

Over the last few months, the conversation has happened mainly amongst board members. This week's community events come ahead of next week's board vote on whether to move forward with the renaming process.

 

Around 30 people attended the meeting Thursday night at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in North Austin. The attendees included alumni, teachers, students and community members of the five schools.

 

The crowd was divided into small groups to discuss opinions. A majority were against changing the names, but for different reasons.

 

Some had concerns over the fact that these five schools were chosen over others in the district. For example, Stephen F. Austin, the namesake of Austin High School, was a proponent of slavery. James Bowie was a slave trader. This lack of consistency bothered Elaine Bohls-Graham, a Reagan High School alumnus and current AISD teacher.

 

“There are other individuals who have schools, buildings, cities, named after them,” said Bohls-Graham. “[They] were slave owners and also participated.”

 

She is also opposed to changing the names because she says it would erase the fact that proponents of slavery are part of Austin’s history.

 

“You can’t change history,” Bohls-Graham said. “You have to move forward, and you have to use it as a teachable moment for people.”


Another reason attendees were against the name change had to do with the legacy of the schools. Eduardo Vaca-Amaya attended Lanier High School and currently works as a special education teaching assistant there. He says if the name changes, a part of his personal history is also erased.

 

“People will never know where Lanier High School was,” Vaca-Amaya said. “For me, it’s on a personal level, because now that I work there and came back, I see that Lanier High School has grown as a great community.”

 

People also cited the cost of changing a name as a concern, when many of these schools could use the money for academic or facility needs.

 

Outside of those attending the community meeting there are many groups still wanting the names changed. The East Austin Coalition For Quality Education ia advocating for the name changes to move forward.

 

"The district's stated values of 'equity, diversity and includsion' are incompatible with continuing to honor symbol of white supremacy," the group wrote in a statement. "We should instead model our values for current and future students by choosing names that honor marginalized peoples whose contributions to our community have been intentionally erased."

 

This conversation began in 2015 when the school community at the former Robert E. Lee Elementary asked the board to change its name.

 

The board votes Monday on whether to start the name change process. If they approve it, it could take around two months to complete.