Bucking the national trend to dump its historic Confederate past, a Texas school board voted to keep Gen. Robert E. Lee’s moniker on one of its district’s high schools. The move comes despite the prodding to rename it from former San Antonio mayor, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro.
San Antonio’s North East Independent School District trustees voted 5-2 to maintain the name Robert E. Lee High School during a special board meeting last Monday. In response to the tragic June shootings of nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina Bible study class, a slew of Texas schools jumped on the politically correct bandwagon to remove images, symbols, and historical figures associated with the pre-Civil War South. Some of those includes another San Antonio school district, North East ISD, also stirred up by Castro.
Over the summer, Castro called for a name change on his Facebook page and in a interview which Breitbart Texas reported. The former mayor insisted there were “other, more appropriate individuals to honor and spotlight as role models” but did not suggest any possible alternatives. A Robert E. Lee High School student started a petition to change the school’s name, but it failed to meet its goal of 15,000 signatures. Still, the school experienced pressure and bickering to change its name that resulted in the district issuing a gag order that stifled employees from publicly commenting on the contentious issue.
In a lengthy preface to the vote, School Board of Trustees President Letti Bresnahan stated that the board serves all its students and “unequivocally we do not discriminate based on race, creed, gender, or economic status” and that the district’s schools are “beautifully diverse.” She added that the board members themselves are “varied and diverse yet commonly committed to the cause of public education.”
She said one of the “responsibilities and privileges” of being an elected board member is to name schools. “We honor schools for those individuals who have achieved great things, individuals who have contributed something which is greater than themselves and that name is meant to inspire those who walk the hallowed halls of such schools.”
Bresnahan noted those names may “divide or offend,” calling it a complicated and subjective matter because there are no “valid metrics or studies” to support if a school’s name inspires or not. As part of her due diligence, the school board president shared she interacted with individuals on both sides of the debate, read and responded to hundreds of emails, spoke to former administrators from over 50 years ago asking them to share memories about the cultural climate when the school was named for the Confederate general. She even requested the 1958 board meeting minutes in which the school’s name was voted upon and the 1991 board meeting minutes from when the high school scrapped its Confederate flag symbol, the result of some racial incidents and out of sensitivity to a black student wearing the then Confederate flag adorned school band uniform.
“This is what our history is,” she said subsequently. “It is full of imperfections and mistakes, but it’s these imperfections and mistakes that make us who we are.”
Board Vice President Shannon Grona also spoke at the meeting, saying, “We have had some who have resorted to bullying, intimidation and threats in an attempt to get us to change the name.”
The board’s black member Edd White was one of two trustees who wanted to rename the school. He said regarding Lee: “And as we all know, he was fighting to maintain slavery.” According to KENS 5 (CBS), White said the school’s name “has always been offensive to me as an African American.”
Jim Wheat, the other trustee to vote for the name change, pointed out the school voted to remove the use of the Confederate flag nearly 25 years ago. Although the board voted down another motion that would have allowed the high school’s students to weigh in on the renaming matter, they voted unanimously to inventory Confederate symbols displayed at the school, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.