After debating the issue for a year, the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville on Tuesday approved the removal of the district’s recommendations and changing the names.
The schools that will be renamed include Joseph Finegan Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, JEB Stuart Middle School, Kirby-Smith Middle School, Jefferson Davis Middle School and Robert E. Lee High School.
“The level of community engagement in this process was unlike anything we’ve experienced,” school board chair Elizabeth Anderson said in a statement. “The support of organizations such as Jacques Chambers, the Florida Times-Union, and the NAACP demonstrates how meaningful this was to our future as a community. Every message we send to our children has to be about inclusivity and belonging. Removing federal names from our schools helps accomplish that.”
Thousands of stakeholder groups, including students and community members, participated in the voting process to provide input on whether or not to change the names of their schools.
DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said in an earlier statement, “I want to thank everyone who participated in this process, and I would like to thank the school leaders and district staff who have managed it over the past several months. ” “We’ve had dozens of meetings, hours of public testimony, and thousands of votes.”
The schools have been given new names — Anchor Academy, Hidden Oaks Elementary School, Westside Middle School, Springfield Middle School, Charger Academy and Riverside High School — effective August 3.
Board member Ashley Smith Juarez requested the renaming of three more schools – Jean Ribault Middle School, Jean Ribault High School and Andrew Jackson High School. Juarez said in his request, Ribault and Jackson were “responsible for the systematic marginalization and killing of indigenous peoples.”
“After dozens of meetings, hours of public testimony, and a massive stakeholder voting process, the board was recommended to drop those three names and replace the original Confederate six,” Duval County Public School spokeswoman Tracy Pearce told CNN. “The board approved that recommendation, and they will not change the name.”
The Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) has launched the School Naming Fund to cover the cost of renaming six schools. This will include painting, changing uniforms, signs and gym floors to match the schools’ new names.
Pierce said the Jacksonville Jaguars have offered $200,000 to pay for athletic and cheerleader uniforms for schools undergoing name changes.
Despite the verdict, the decision did not come without protest.
As soon as the district began holding public meetings over whether Robert E. Lee High School should be renamed, discussions at those meetings became increasingly heated.
Opponents of the name change attempt made controversial statements such as “Jesus himself was never against slavery” and “you cannot cancel history.”
George Floyd’s influence
The death of George Floyd has led to the removal of controversial statues – in some cases by protesters and in others by city leaders – that have puzzled some residents for decades, if not longer.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. While being arrested, Floyd was held down by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee for more than nine minutes. His death sparked widespread protests across the United States, with people calling for an end to police brutality against people of color.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, at least 168 federal symbols have been removed or relocated from public places, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I think we were all affected by the video recording of the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020,” board member Warren Jones, who sponsored the request to change Confederate names, said during a board meeting. “For those of us who grew up here like me, I was grateful but very surprised when [Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry] Removed the Confederate statue at the time known as Hemming Park. These two incidents prompted me to ask this board … to rename the six DCPS schools that have been named after Confederate officers.”
“It was clear to me that with the removal of federal monuments in Jacksonville the focus would be on the school board and I thought we should be proactive and investigate the history of those schools in the name of federal officials,” he said.
Thousands of children across America attend schools that bear the names of union leaders who fought to keep slavery.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), more than 240 schools across the US are named in honor of Confederate leaders. About half of those schools serve students who are predominantly black or non-white.
CNN’s Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.
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