Duval County School renaming saga continues

Duval County School renaming saga continues

The heated debate continues over school names in Duval County, as the latest disagreement rages on about an answer to the burning question – will schools retain their names – or go the way of history. Perhaps there will be a change, a christening of a new school name, the outcome has yet to be determined.

Currently, Robert E. Lee High School is at the forefront of the battle for the renaming issue in Duval County, the high school serves the community where thousands of readers of Resident News call home. The tense meetings were originally intended to create conversation, share historical facts, and gain understanding, but with individuals receiving only a minute and a half of time, brevity has brought tense, often combative podium speeches and disruptive comments from audience members, on both sides.

Those in favor of keeping the name Robert E. Lee High School have squared off with some Lee High School students, activist groups – from Take em’ Down Jax and the Northside Coalition, as well as fans of Black Lives Matter – to name a few. Passions have been running high as generations of Lee grads have been sounding off about their agreements or disagreements with the issue, voices from both sides have shared their support of, and removal of, the school’s name.

Resident News had reported back in February, the debates were to continue until a final tally of votes determines a resolution to the issues at hand, following April vote tallies. Since that time, The School Advisory Council of Robert E. Lee High School (SAC) has held all five community meetings on the issue, the first was Feb. 24 at the school. Four subsequent meetings were Thursday, March 4; Monday, March 15; Tuesday, March 23; and Thursday, March 25. All meetings were held at 6 p.m. in the school auditorium located at 1200 McDuff Avenue South to standing room only crowds, due to limits placed on social distancing and proximity. COVID precautions forced some to be turned away at the door, for those willing to wait, it meant one exiting member entered as another parted the school.

The renaming comment periods have brought division in the auditorium each night, with passions running high, live stream videos of some at the podium and contentious moments complete with vulgarities. The contentious vote will ultimately determine whether history, memories of alumni, and a school name that has remained the same for almost 100 years will continue, or the school’s name will change; sweeping changes from logos on uniforms, gym floors and signage, to new diplomas and stationery will all be part of the process and the costs associated have concerned many who have spoken.

Tracy Pierce, spokesman for the Duval County School Board and Chief of Marketing and Public Relations representative, maintained the Board’s position. “We made it crystal clear that no sales tax funding will be used to pay these cost – a point we have reiterated from the outset,” he wrote via email.

Local supporters and alumni groups, including representatives of SavetheSchoolNames.org have argued since the beginning that the process is unfair to alumni for many reasons; some for sheer distance from Lee to cast a vote in person, and for others, the hoops to jump through including an in-hand diploma are more cumbersome than voting in local and federal elections.

Arguments were also made the promise of private funds name changes promised for Nathan Bedford Forrest, now Westside High School were anemic, as of this writing, one of the biggest proponents of the idea of cost coverage by donations was the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, or JPEF. To date, the funds recorded total $11,243.85 of its $200,000 goal.

As The Resident reported back in April, Norman Abraham, head of the grassroots alumni group called SavetheSchoolNames.org, only people who will be allowed to vote are dues paying PTSA members, current Lee High School students, residents who live in the school district covered by Lee High School, and alumni. Alumni will need to provide proof of graduation be it a diploma or, perhaps a photo in the school yearbook, he said.

Those who wish to vote on the matter must physically cast a ballot at Robert E. Lee High School and ballots will be placed in a box in the school’s office for 10 days, from Tuesday, April 20, to Friday, April 30. The voting will be overseen by Robert E. Lee Principal Timothy Feagins and SAC. The Resident will follow the story and report on the results of the vote.

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