More Texas school districts seek to erase their Confederate history by rebranding campuses with politically correct names. This reality, sparked by the 2015 tragic, fatal shootings of nine black church parishioners in South Carolina, has only been exacerbated by images that surfaced of the shooter with the Confederate flag.
On Monday, March 21, Dallas Independent School District students at John B. Hood Middle School got to do something few youngsters do –vote for a new campus name. They chose Piedmont Global Academy, according to the Dallas Morning News. The moniker received 63 percent of the student body vote and refers to a section of southeast Dallas better known as Pleasant Grove. Helen A. Keller took second place with 27 percent of the middle schoolers voting, and Mahatma Gandhi came in third, receiving 10 percent of the student body’s votes.
In February, these students began the renaming process once Dallas ISD decided to dump the Confederate general for whom the middle school and Fort Hood pay homage. Like in other districts undergoing name changes, community members, and school administrators will weigh in on the students’ pick before the board of trustees gives any final approval. This will likely happen before the end of the school year.
At a Monday night work session, Austin ISD board of trustees continued to hash out the particulars on the path to stripping the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, off the elementary school that bears his name. After almost an hour of discussion, they agreed to put the matter to a vote at their next regular board meeting on March 28.
Should they move forward, Lee Elementary would begin the process of finding a new namesake. Three other Austin ISD schools are named for the Confederate figures: Gen. Albert S. Johnston, Southern poet Sidney Lanier, and John H. Reagan. The high school bearing the Alamo legend William B. Travis’s name, also has a “rebel” mascot, which some feel stands as a symbol of racism. Not every Texas school district has felt the same. In July, hundreds of Richland High School families, a racially mixed crowd, rallied in the Dallas area to save their “rebel” mascot from the chopping block.
In 2015, just before Thanksgiving, the Austin ISD board voted to change a district policy to allow schools named after historical figures associated with the Confederacy to change those names. Trustees originally planned to vote last Decemer on replacing Robert E. Lee’s name on the elementary school. The hot-button issue led to impassioned arguments on both sides of the debate. This culminating in dueling petitions where more than 500 Austinites and the school’s campus advisory council supported the name change while 450 area residents cried out to leave the school alone. The campus bears Lee’s name since 1939. Some advocates in favor of keeping Lee’s name pursue a historical landmark designation, according to the Austin American-Statesman, although school district officials do not believe the tactic would affect changing the middle school’s name.
Since January, one school district ran a clean sweep of its pre-Civil War figures — Houston ISD. School board members voted to change eight public school campuses named for historical Confederate figures at an estimated $250,000 per school. The total cost to its taxpayers will be at least $2 million. That includes new high school mascot names, emblems, logos, team and cheer uniforms, spirit, pride, and booster branded materials to the politically correct, non-offensive names. This move to rename comes amid Houston ISD’s $107 million budgetary gap. The financial shortfal is the result of board trustees approving the district to borrow $212 million to cover a $1.9 billion bond for which they came up short. An ongoing audit intends to find out why.
That $1.9 billion dollar bond in 2012 was the largest school bond in Texas history. Despite the proposed increased tax burden that rebranding would place on Houston ISD residents in an already shaky financial situation, board trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said, “I’ll take dignity over dollars.”
Forty percent or 109 of Houston ISD campuses rated as failing or low performing on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) 2016-17 Public Education Grant (PEG) list which ranked the district as failing or low performing based on poor test scores or unacceptable ratings. Houston ISD has the highest number of failing schools in the state’s public education system.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.