Forrest name change decision coming Monday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Students and teachers of a Westside high school will know Monday whether the name of their school will be changed.

Duval County Superintendent Nickolai Vitti said his personal decision to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School will be a tough one.

Forrest's name has been controversial because school board members say the confederate general was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Outside the school Wednesday, Confederate flags and protesters rallied in opposition of the potential name change.

"It ain't just about Nathan Bedford Forrest, it is about this American flag," one Jacksonville resident said. "It belongs to me as much as any white man in America."

"If the truth is known about history, then we should win this battle," said Bodie Catlin, who opposes the name change.

Those comments came on the heels of a panel discussion Wednesday held inside the school with juniors and seniors about the general's past. Historians told the students Forrest wasn't a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

"They say he killed black people because they were black, which is not true. They can't prove it," Shillinglaw said.

Vitti, however, said the district knows differently.

"I think it's been well-established through history," he said.

Vitti said if he decides to change the school's name on Monday, it will be a half-million dollar undertaking. The district will have to change the marquees, logos, gymnasium floors, and everything that says the name Forrest.

Vitti said a new name would be chosen from surveys conducted in the community, but school board policies forbid future naming after a person.

"Every individual has skeletons in their closet and there could be a debate on anyone's legacy," Vitti said. "So the board in the future would never have to deal with this again."

Vitti said he's already received offers from groups in the community who say they will pay for all of the costs associated with changing the name so it doesn't impact the district's budget.

Vitti said Monday's decision is going to be a hard one because there's no one solution that will please everyone.

"That's what leadership is about, having to make difficult decisions is about," Vitti said. "I never took this job to be popular."

If approved, Vitti said the name change would go into effect during the 2014-15 school year.

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