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DCPS hears from public about changing schools named after Confederate leaders

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools kicked off its series of community meetings Tuesday concerning the renaming of Jacksonville schools named after Confederate leaders.

Four community meetings were held Tuesday — at Finnegan Elementary, J.E.B. Stuart Middle School, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, and Kirby Smith Middle School.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary. Our school is majority African-American and they should not have to come to school somewhere that is named for a Confederate,” said Northside Coalition member Rochelle Smith. “We also have a plaque in our front office with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s name on it and to me that’s unacceptable. He’s the founder of the Ku Klux klan.”

A Jacksonville mother of two says hearing the name of her children’s school made her cringe.

“We were even considering moving our children to a new school with a more positive name and a more positive view,” said Denisha Sylvester. “I came out because it’s important to me that the school name is changed from Stonewall Jackson to another name that we can be proud of.”

The long discussion of renaming schools has not come without fervent opinions from the other side. 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.

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

The process for changing the names is as follows:

  • Schools will invite the community stakeholders who can verify their involvement with the institution.
  • 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.
  • The School Advisory Committee will create a shortlist of possible names on which the school community will vote.
  • The school will provide the results of that vote to the superintendent.
  • The superintendent will make a final recommendation on any name changes to the school board which will have the final say.

According to the district website, 28 meetings are scheduled for the renaming of the nine schools that bear a Confederate leader’s name. The next public meetings will be held Thursday at Jefferson Davis Middle School.

About the Author:

At WJXT for a quarter of a century, Mary Baer anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news weekdays.