A Texas high school cited “student safety” concerns as the reason for shedding its nearly 60-year-old Confederate namesake, General Robert E. Lee. This marks the second time in a week that public education officials in the Lone Star State used the rationale to strip a slice of history from a campus.
North East Independent School District trustees held a special meeting Tuesday night where they voted unanimously, 7-0, to change the name of Robert E. Lee High. Last Thursday, Midland ISD administrators framed “student safety” to nix a few bars of the southern favorite “Dixie” out of their school fight song.
Although some North East ISD trustees said they did not agree with changing the high school’s name, they apparently caved to the “student safety” narrative amid no reported or disclosed threats. Board President Shannon Grona expressed feeling pressure to “take the target off our backs.”
The San Antonio Express-News reported she stated: “It is so frustrating to me that things that aren’t even happening in North East (ISD) or San Antonio, or even Texas are once again causing us to discuss the name of Lee High School.”
In 2015, a similar push to re-brand Lee High followed the tragic murder of nine black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina. Grona, then board vice president, and trustees voted 5-2 to keep Lee’s name. “We have had some who have resorted to bullying, intimidation, and threats in an attempt to change the name,” she said at the time, which Breitbart Texas reported.
On Tuesday, board members responded to the current fervor to remove Confederate statues and monuments sparked by a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists and leftist Antifa counter-protesters clashed. One woman died, others were injured. Trustee Tony Jaso considered the “national debate” so “overly charged” that it was a “potential danger to our children at this school, aside from being a colossal distraction from our primary mission — to educate and develop the whole child,” according to the Rivard Report.
Board Vice President Brigitte Perkins said it was a “no win situation” where she felt “bullied” into making a tough decision based heavily on public pressure and emotion. Trustee Sandy Hughey voiced reservations over the costs to re-brand signage, uniforms, and booster club items.
Outgoing board member Sandi Wolff, however, spent her last meeting applauding the Student Committee for Change at Lee High, the group angling for the name change. She also presented the board with the young activists’ proposal on renaming the school. On Facebook, these teens offered up a “very special thank you” to Wolff, crediting her “for all of her guidance and support throughout this movement! We could not have done it without her!”
First and foremost, though, the kids thanked “former mayor and White House cabinet member Julian Castro for his support and amazing advice that help and guided us on how to start this process.” Castro infused himself into the San Antonio school district’s politics in 2015, too. Breitbart Texas reported that while serving as former President Obama’s hand-picked HUD czar, Castro called for renaming Lee High.
An online petition, Denounce White Supremacy by Renaming San Antonio’s “Robert E. Lee” High School prompted the North East ISD special board meeting, according to the San Antonio newspaper. Started by 19-year-old Gianno Gomez, it received 3,673 signatures of its 5,000 goal. Gomez never even attended Robert E. Lee High School. He graduated from Clark High in nearby Northside ISD.
Ironically, 2017 Lee High grad Benjamin White also created an online campaign, only his petition pleaded to keep Lee’s name. It garnered 6,154 of its target 7,500 supporter goal, netting 2,400-plus more signatures than Gomez’s petition. Somehow these figures did not factor into the school board’s decision, which was made without hearing public comments from either side of the debate, according to KENS5.
White thanked supporters on Facebook. “I did my best. But I failed. I’m sorry.”
A commenter responded: “You didn’t fail Ben. You tried to stop a ridiculous move.”
In a statement Wednesday, North East ISD asserted that trustees determined Lee’s name was a “disruption to the mission of educating students and a potential safety concern to students and staff.” The district said the school board recognized “times have changed” since 2015 and they made the vote unanimous “in the best interest of the students and the district.”
In 1991, North East ISD scrapped the use of the Confederate flag as its symbol, removing it from athlete and band informs following racial incidents and sensitivity to community concerns.
The high school will continue to bear Lee’s name through this school year. Administrators intend to develop a plan to rename the school.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.