Reacting to board Forrest High name change vote

Board directs superintendent to survey stakeholders, make recommendation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People in support of changing the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School and people against spoke at a Friday school board meeting. 

"I think it's a positive thing. I think that basically it'd been too long, I don't believe that a school should be named after the first grand dragon of the KKK," said Robert Montgomerie, of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition. 

Montgomerie said the school board's vote is a step in the right direction.

Not all agree, though. 

Dave Nelson owns a local Civil War shop, and he said documents he has in his store indicate there's no evidence Forrest was involved with the KKK. 

"He was brought forth and asked those same questions and he denied any involvement with any membership and any involvement in it. The knowledge he had was given to him and told to him by other people. That was in his testimony to Congress," said Nelson. 

Friday afternoon, the Duval County School Board unanimously voted to initiate the renaming process for Nathan B. Forrest High School.

The vote came during a special meeting and formally accepted a written request by Board Member Connie Hall, who represents the Westside district that includes Forrest, and directs Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to initiate the process.

"There has been a tremendous amount of community and national interest in the Forrest High School name," Vitti said after the meeting. "It's the start of the official engagement process to hear from the stakeholders that are defined in policy that need to be engaged and heard before I make a final recommendation to the board regarding a possible name change."

That process will include surveying current and former students, the school's faculy, advisory council, parent teacher association and people who live in Forrest's attendance zone about whether the name should be changed.  Town hall meetings would also be held.

The superintendent said he hoped to complete the process and make his recommendation whether to rename the school to the board in December or January. The board would then hold another vote on that recommendation.

Friday's meeting followed a board meeting Tuesday night at which the Forrest issue was not even on the agenda, but people on both sides spoke for nearly two hours during the public comment period.

The board policy "Naming or Renaming Schools or School Facilities," established in April 1997, guided the process that the Forrest High School Advisory Council (SAC) used to recommend renaming in 2007. In November of 2008, the policy was updated to the current policy, which permits the superintendent, a board member, SAC, PTA, or 75 percent of students, alumni, and community members to initiate a name change.

Schools, according to the current policy, shall not be named for persons (living or deceased) or be in conflict with an existing school or district facility name.