You Can Weigh In On Renaming Austin ISD Schools Named After Confederate Figures

Feb 20, 2018

The Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees is seeking community feedback on whether to rename five district facilities named after people who served in the Confederacy. The board is gathering community input before it votes on whether to change the names at its meeting Monday. 

District administration asked the board to consider renaming the following buildings at a November board meeting:

  • 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 conversation around changing school names in AISD began in 2015 after a white supremacist killed nine African-Americans inside a church in Charleston, SC. Following a national discussion on race and symbols of the Confederacy, members of the Robert E. Lee school community asked the board to change the name of the school. The school was rebranded Russell Lee Elementary in 2016. 

Since then, the official conversation has mainly been between school board members. Leading up to Monday's vote, residents have a few options to share their input on the name changes with the district. One is submitting a response online. A second is attending one of two community meetings. 

At a work session last week, Trustee Ted Gordon told the board he was fine with keeping the names, if the district educated the community about each namesake. But, if the district is not prepared to make that a priority, the names should be changed.

"Changing the name doesn't change that history," Gordon said. "In fact, changing the name doesn't come to terms with that really, hardly at all."

Gordon said these names and similar monuments serve as learning opportunities for students about the history of slavery and the Confederacy.

Board member Julie Cowan expressed concern over the lack of community input in the process. When the board changed the name of the former Robert E. Lee Elementary, it was in response to a request from members of the surrounding community in Hyde Park.  

"I haven't heard an outcry from the current students the parents at these targeted campuses like we had from Lee Elementary," Cowan said. "It feels different to me." 

She said she would like the board to examine the district's social studies curriculum around slavery and the Civil War.

If the board votes to move forward with the name changes, the community would be able to provide suggestions for a new name. Changes could take a few months. 

Clarification: This post initially said Trustee Ted Gordon was against removing the names during the work session. While he said that, he also said he would support keeping the names if Austin ISD used them as a "pedagogical tool" to educate students about historical racism.