Forrest High students vote on new name

Students vote on new name, alumni and residents to vote through weekend

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Students at Nathan Bedford Forrest High School are voting on a new name for the school Tuesday and Wednesday after the Duval County School Board voted Monday night the name should be changed.

The options for a new name are Westside High School and Firestone High School.

Thursday through Saturday, alumni and residents who live near the school are also invited to vote for the name change.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti will reengage stakeholders to share their thoughts on the new name before making a recommendation to the board at its next meeting on Jan. 7. Under board policy, schools can no longer be named for people.

The new name will be announced Jan. 17. The name change will go into effect in July.

IMAGES: Name change makes international news

It will cost up to $400,000 to change everything that bears Forrest's name, such as athletic uniforms, signs around the school, the marquis in front of the school, and the gym floor.

Vitti said community groups have offered to pay the cost so it will not come from education funds, though no donations have been made yet. If no money is donated to help with the cost, it would come from the district's capital budget, not from the school.

"People will see that they are trying to better the community," student Eric Trone said. "People are going to support that 100 percent towards giving and donating. It is going to make the school funds go way up."

"It sounds like a lot to start out, but down the road, it's a worthwhile investment," said Herbert Luker, who lives near the school. "We are showing the students, especially the African-Americans that this name was chosen in 1959, but we care enough to make the change so that nobody feels disparaged."

As part of his presentation Monday night, Vitti released findings of a survey of nearly 1,600 stakeholders, with results as follows:

Number of      responsesSupportname change   Opposed toname change   
Faculty   11148%52%
Community  9325%75%
School Advisory Council  1164%36%
Parent Teacher Association    475%25%

Many were not happy when Vitti proposed changing the name. Some alumni said that changing the name devalues the memories they have from the time at the school.

Proponents of the name change, however, were happy to hear the superintendent push for change. Most of the students on Tuesday were pleased with the vote and happy they will have a say in what the school's new name will be.

"They are excited that a name change will happen, and things will be a lot easier for us once it happens," said senior Alexis Knight.

She will be a part of the final class to graduate from the school under its current name. Knight said she's voting for the name Firestone High.

"I think it's good to change the name to make it easier for the students to attend school without the thought of racial terms," she said.

"Everybody wants it to be Westside High. That is the one that I personally wanted," student Ashley Boykins said.

"I think this is an awakening for the next generation of students," Trone said. "They had their past. Now it's time to have the future."

Students also have the chance to vote on the name of the mascot. The current mascot is the Rebels, and that is one of the options. The other two are the Scorpions and the Stallions.

While many did agree the school name should be changed, thoughts are mixed on whether the mascot should change.

"Not really. It can stay Rebels," Boykins said. "It is just the name of it that I didn't like."

Some feel that a full fresh start would be better than remaining the Rebels.

"It makes it look like it is really racist towards others," Trone said. "Why can't we have an animal, like a really strong animal?"