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Debate over controversial DCPS school names continues

District to host community stakeholder meetings starting in February

The debate over controversial school names in Duval County continues: many are calling for the names of Confederate leaders and other control figures to be scrubbed from the public buildings.
The debate over controversial school names in Duval County continues: many are calling for the names of Confederate leaders and other control figures to be scrubbed from the public buildings.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The names of nine Duval County Public Schools campuses are poised to undergo review starting next month, as stakeholders discuss the schools’ controversial namesake historical figures.

Six of the schools under consideration for renaming honor Confederate Civil War leaders and the other three schools are named after leaders who perpetrated violence against Native Americans.

The schools under consideration are:

  • Joseph Finegan Elementary
  • Stonewall Jackson Elementary
  • Jefferson Davis Middle
  • Kirby-Smith Middle
  • J.E.B. Stuart Middle
  • Robert E. Lee High
  • Andrew Jackson High School
  • Jean Ribault High School
  • Jean Ribault Middle School

In June, the DCPS Board voted unanimously to begin the consideration process for changing the names of six of the schools. Jackson High, Ribault High, and Ribault Middle schools were added to the list in early August.

The Process

The district developed a process to determine whether each renaming will occur and, if one or more does, what the new name will be. The process allows for heavy input from community stakeholders who have a connection to the respective school, such as students, alumni, community members, parents and employees.

The process is as follows:

  1. Schools will invite the community stakeholders who can verify their involvement with the institution,
  2. Each school will host meetings with those stakeholders, during which the school’s namesake figure will be scrutinized and examined. These meetings will also allow stakeholders to make recommendations for alternative names to the School Advisory Committee.
  3. The School Advisory Committee will create a shortlist of possible names on which the school community will vote.
  4. The school will provide the results of that vote to the superintendent.
  5. The superintendent will make a final recommendation on any name changes to the school board which will have the final say.

According to the DCPS website, meetings will begin taking place in February and a webpage will be launched to provide the community with information about the process.

The Arguments

The long discussion of renaming schools has not come without fervent opinions on both sides.

As of the publication of this article, nearly 15,000 supporters had added their names to a Change.org petition titled “Change the Name of Robert E Lee High School in Jacksonville, FL.

The Northside Coalition also voiced strong support for renaming the nine campuses.

“The Duval County School Board should stop beating around the bush and instead move to rename schools named after Confederates and other white supremacists,” said Ben Frazier, leader of the Northside Coalition. “It’s disgusting that thousands of Black students are forced to attend public schools in Duval County that bear the names of Confederates who fought to perpetuate slavery. "

The president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, which launched a special fund to finance the renaming, issued the following statement:

“The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is committed to excellent outcomes for all students, no matter what they look like or where they come from. That’s why we’re proud to support the School Board’s efforts to ensure all schools are welcoming and inclusive of our diverse student body and that our schools’ names reflect our belief in the potential of all students. Our School Renaming Fund is open for anyone who wants to help offset the costs of renaming schools, following community input and the School Board’s final decision. We’ve seen a groundswell of support for this fund, even though we’ve done almost no promotion as we await the conclusion of the school renaming process. Anyone who wants to support this effort can give at jaxpef.org/school-renaming.”

Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, President of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund

Meanwhile, some stakeholders are staunchly against the effort to rebrand the buildings.

A group of alumni from Lee High School are pushing to keep the school’s name, saying that Lee High has too much history to be renamed.

“Our voice should carry much more weight than the people who never attended this school. We’re the alumni of this school. We love this school. It was never about racism. It never has been about racism for us. It’s about Southern pride,” said Lee High School alumnus Joey Steves.

The group formed a committee to oppose the renaming.

There is also a website for those who oppose changing the names: SavetheSchoolNames.org.

The Funding

A spokesperson for JPEF told News4Jax more than $8,000 has been collected from more than 70 donors, virtually a drop in the bucket of the estimated cost of renaming a school.

Duval County School Board Chairman Warren Jones said in September that renaming the initial six schools is expected to cost between $750,000 and $1 million.

That estimate was based on the costs associated with the 2014 renaming of Nathan B. Forrest High School to Westside High School, which was roughly $200,000. Although, district spokesperson Tracy Pierce told News4Jax that renaming a high school is much more expensive than a middle or elementary school.

“The primary cost involved is uniforms, sports uniforms, band uniforms, that type of thing,” Pierce said. “That becomes much less than an elementary or middle school compared to high school.”

Pierce said Friday that the district does not have a cost estimate for renaming all nine schools.


About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributer to the News4Jax I-team and Facing the Fall coverage.