Final meeting to discuss potential name change at Lee High brings more than 100 people

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The final scheduled meeting to discuss potentially renaming Robert E. Lee High School in Duval County brought more than 100 people out to share their feelings.

Tensions in the school’s auditorium were high at times, and people attending were reminded not to cheer or make noises while people were making their comments. A couple of people were asked to leave the meeting.

“Why should the name be changed, because it’s offensive? If this is a real issue, will it stop here? No,” Don Likens said during the meeting. “This will continue until everything that is offensive to this cancel culture movement is just that. Canceled.”

“We’re here because this situation has been created to promote unrest,” said Cathy Silcox.

“Every day I see my African American friends, peers, teachers and administrators walk the halls of a school that is named after someone who oppressed their people and led a war to continue to enslave them,” said a student who supports a name change.

“We need a change, and the people here in this room today are for that change,” said another student. “We have come here five times and we will do it as long as it takes for us to get change.”

Dozens of people rallied before the meeting, and some stood with Amy Donofrio, a Lee High School teacher who garnered attention this week after she refused to take down a “Black Lives Matter” flag that was hanging outside her classroom.

The district confirmed Donofrio was reassigned to paid, non-teaching duties Thursday. The district said it has also opened a human resources investigation to review “allegations of potential misconduct” under school board policy.

“Teaching my students is without a doubt my life’s greatest honor and joy. As such, I am devastated by yesterday’s order to remove me from Lee High School and place me under disciplinary investigation,” she said.

The allegations against Donofrio were not immediately clear. She said she was not permitted to attend Thursday night’s discussion over the name change.

RELATED: Lee High teacher who hung BLM flag outside classroom reassigned, accused of misconduct

“The presumption of innocence applies; however, Ms. Donofrio has been removed from school and classroom duties while the matter is reviewed,” DCPS told News4Jax in a statement.

An advisory committee will finalize a list of five potential names, including Robert E. Lee. Then, there will be an opportunity to vote on a name.

Supporters of the name change have collected more than 15,000 signatures in an online petition.

Others disagree and say Lee High has too much history to be renamed. A group of alumni formed a committee to oppose the renaming.

The School Advisory Committee will meet on April 5 to finalize up to five name recommendations to include on a ballot. That meeting will also be open to the public.

The community will have two chances to vote:

  • April 26 - April 30, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
  • May 3rd - May 7, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Here is a list of who can vote:

  • Students
  • Duval Schools faculty and staff
  • School Advisory Council
  • Parent Teacher Association or Parent Teacher Student Association members
  • Community members within the school’s attendance zone, and former attendance zone for current Magnet schools
  • Alumni of the school, regardless of graduation status

The district is considering name changes for eight other schools.

There are no more community meetings at those schools and going forward there are different voting periods at each school.

There is an online tracker where you can follow the process.

About the Authors:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.