School Board votes to change name of Forrest High School

Superintendent recommended change; board members agreed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board voted unanimously Monday night to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School following a long campaign by members of the community seeking that.

As the special meeting began, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recommended the name be changed.

"It is undeniable that the name Nathan B. Forrest is divisive," Vitti told the board. "It is time for Jacksonville to move on."

Vitti also recommended that the name be changed effective with the next school year, which will allow current seniors to graduate with a diploma from Forrest.

As part of his presentation, 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 Superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti proposed changing the name.

"I'm upset because this change is being pushed politically, not by students. No student has ever come up to Westside and say, 'let's change the name of school,'" said one attendee at the Monday's meeting.

"I know it won't invalidate my diploma," said a Forrest graduate. "Well, you got to have understand there's some kind of meaning there, my school won't exist anymore."

Proponents of the name change were happy to hear the Superintendent push for change.

"There are things from the past that are swept under the rug, but this is something that needs to be decided once and for all," said a supporter of the name change.

Superintendent Vitti said the focus for the name change has to be on the kids at the school moving forward.

"It was necessary to move our city forward," said Vitti. "This issue would've never stopped, would've continued to go to future superintendents, and it was time to be decisive and move on."

As a result of the board's decision, Vitti will re-engage stakeholders to share their thoughts on the new name before making a recommendation to the board at its next meeting on January 7. Under board policy, schools can no longer be named for people.

The name change will go into effect in July 2014, though a new name has not been chosen yet.

Starting Tuesday and Wednesday, students at Forrest will get to vote on a new name. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, alumni and residents who live nearby the school are also invited to vote for the name change.

It will cost up to $400,000 to change everything that bears Forrest's name. Vitti said community groups have offered to pay the cost so it will not come from education funds.

The school's new name will be announced January 17.

History of N.B. Forrest High School, name controversy

In 1971, Forrest High became integrated following a federal district court order. Today, over 1,300 students attend, with a student population that is 61.6 percent black, 22.9 percent white, 8.7 percent Hispanic, 2.6 percent Asian, 3.9 percent multi-racial and 0.3 percent Indian.

"We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history," said board member Dr. Constance Hall, who represent District 5, which includes Forrest. "For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality – all that we expect in Duval schools. Our board has and is guided by a set of core values that promote equal opportunity, honors differences, and values diversity."

This latest push to change the name resurfaced in 2012, and for months, people on both sides have signed petitions and attended school board meetings and public hearings to talk about their opinions.

"This has been personal for me since 2007," said Steven Lance Stoll, who is for the name change. "I was teaching a college class and we were talking about projects to do in my sociology class and one of my students mentioned there was a school named for the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and I thought, 'Come on,' you know, and I went home immediately and started to investigate it and sure enough it was true."

A big campaign led by Stoll then did not result in the name change, but with it gaining ground this year, his passion for the name change was reignited.

Alumni of the high school banded together in hopes of keeping the name of the school they graduated from the same.

"Nathan Bedford Forrest was not the man that everybody is making him out to be. Yes, he was grand wizard of the KKK, but when he started this group and when he was in it, it was not a racial group at all," said Alexis Cluff, a 2004 alumni of Forrest High.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.