Final day of Duval school name change voting brings last minute campaign pushes

Dueling campaign signs posted at McDuff Avenue and Park Street in Jacksonville, Fla. on May 7, 2021. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The community input portion of the months-long process for deciding whether to rename nine Duval County Public Schools campuses is scheduled to end at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Polling locations at Robert E. Lee High School, Andrew Jackson High School, Jean Ribault High School and Jean Ribault Middle School will wrap up a two-week ballot process, during which alumni, students, PTA members, attendance zone residents and employees are able to weigh in on the decision.

J.E.B. Stuart Middle, Joseph Finegan Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, Jefferson Davis Middle and Kirby-Smith Middle schools all completed their community balloting process earlier in the school year.

The ballots cast will not be the sole factor in the renaming decision, which will fall on the seven-member school board during its June meeting. That board will vote after being presented with a recommendation from DCPS superintendent Dr. Diana Greene who will consider the results of the voting process as well as the input garnered from public meetings and other relevant factors.

“It’s more than just the vote. It’s looking at the community meetings, the information that has been shared over months, as well as the ballots,” Greene told News4Jax in a Wednesday interview. “And you know it’s going to be a very difficult decision, it’s going to be a very difficult situation. But I believe this board, our school board, is up for this challenge.”

RELATED: How balloting for local schools’ names works

Since the nine schools were put up for consideration in July and August of 2020, community interest in the debate has grown at a seemingly exponential rate, manifesting in community meetings, public demonstrations and online social media groups -- though none of the schools saw nearly as much contention as Lee High.

Throughout the neighborhoods and attendance zones, campaign signs are posted in countless lawns -- some calling for the school district to “Keep The Name” and others demanding the board “Change The Name.”

Opposing signs posted in the neighborhood adjacent to Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla. on May 7, 2021. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Some alumni are driving long distances to cast a last-minute ballot.

Lee High School class of 2006 graduate Becca Godwin now resides in the Atlanta area but said she considers her vote on the renaming issue important enough to drive 5 1/2 hours.

“It’s important to me to counter those voting to keep [the name],” Godwin told News4Jax Friday. “So much damage has already been done, especially in the meetings where students who should be able to enjoy being a student are having to fight for something like simply being respected at their school.”

Godwin stands apart from a coalition of alumni pushing to preserve the name of Lee High School, saying the name has become synonymous with their memories of the school. Many also argued the effort to rename the school is an example of “cancel culture,” a term popularized by conservative politicians.

Opponents have also argued that the costs associated with renaming the schools will not produce any positive academic outcome and the money should therefore be directed at school needs they deem more critical.

Student leaders said the climate in the schools, particularly Lee High, has been affected by the contentious process and Greene told News4Jax in a recent interview that the community will need to heal after the final decision is made.

Choices on the ballot

Robert E. Lee High SchoolAndrew Jackson High School
Option 1Avondale High SchoolEastside High School
Option 2Legacy High SchoolMain Street School of Advanced Technology
Option 3Riverside High SchoolSpringfield High School
Option 4School No. 33Springfield High School of Advanced Technology
Option 5Keep current nameKeep current name