Students feel muted: Lee High class president describes tense school environment

Senior Class President Deyona Burton said the students felt muted.

Senior Class President Deyona Burton said the students felt muted.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Thursday night, Robert E. Lee High School holds its final public meeting to discuss the question of renaming the campus.

It comes in the midst of the controversial reassignment of a teacher at the school who refused to remove a “Black Lives Matter” flag from her classroom doorway.

The school’s senior class president said it has been tense in the hallways recently. She also said as adults are arguing about the name of the school, students are feeling left out.

It’s been a year like no other at Lee High.

It started in the midst of a pandemic. Then in February, students staged a walk-out demonstration over a district campaign during Black History Month.

Then Thursday, the school district confirmed a popular Lee High teacher was pulled from classroom duties after she disobeyed administrators who told her to take down a “Black Lives Matter” flag.

Deyona Burton, 18, was elected president of the school’s senior class this year.

She said the nationwide push to remove Confederate monuments and rename buildings trickled down to her school.

“So it was talked about and then it slowly started dwindling down simply because we’re hitting the end of the semester,” Burton said. “This is a time where we start grinding, where we start making sure our grades are together. So it was kind of put on the backburner for a lot of students.”

Then, this week, the debates over the name of Robert E. Lee High School and the controversy over teacher Amy Donofrio’s flag spurred the students to plan a demonstration Wednesday.

“But it was kind of it was stopped. It was prevented…they were threatened,” Burton said.

The school administrators shut down the march, saying the students didn’t go through the proper channels to get it approved. Burton said the students felt muted.

“We weren’t being heard at the community meetings because a lot of students can’t make it,” she said. “We are posting it on social media but they are not really looking on social media. Now, we’re literally not being heard in the school. Now, it goes hand in hand, so yes, tension. Yes, confusion, hesitancy, because we have been threatened with not being able to walk the stage.”

As the school year moves into the final stretch, and the final name change discussion, News4Jax asked Burton if she is proud of her school.

“So I have always told people that I always thought Lee was the students’. But lately, I cannot tell what the school stands for. I don’t know if we the current students are the school, if the alumni are the school, if the admin are the school because each of them have a different agenda,” Burton said. “So I can’t say I’m proud of the school without knowing what it stands for and that symbolism and definition has been lost or I can’t see it anymore, and definitely not in this climate, but I will always be proud of my peers and my students.”

While Burton said all this controversy at the school is certainly affecting the mood and the morale, she said she doesn’t think it’s affecting academics.

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.