Trustees discuss process for renaming 5 campuses associated with Confederate figures

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A plan to rename five Austin ISD campuses named after Confederate soldiers and government officials is underway. Tonight trustees discussed what the process would entail in terms of community engagement and cost.

Schools to be considered for renaming include Zachary Taylor Fulmore Middle School, Sidney Lanier Early College High School, John H. Reagan Early College High School and Eastside Memorial Early College High School at the Albert Sidney Johnston campus. The John T. Allan facility, a former school which is now defunct, is also on the list.

The general consensus among trustees was renaming the schools showed the district’s commitment to inclusion of all students.

“The time in which these names were placed on these schools was a time of intimidation, a time of reacting to a war that was lost, and truly a time when placing that name over the building was to say who was welcome and who was not,” trustee Yasmin Wagner said. “It’s important to exercise our power to say that these schools are not just a place for some but a place for all students.”

Still, some worried about the associated costs, especially during a time of significant budgetary shortfalls. Brian Hill, special projects lead for the superintendent, said his meetings with campus advisory committee resulted in the same question.

Elementary school name changes carry a cost of approximately $13,800, he said, and secondary school name changes cost about $77,000.

Understanding why the school district chose to name these schools after Confederate officials in the first place was something trustee Geronimo Rodriguez thought would be worthwhile. He requested the administration locate historical meeting minutes to provide further context for trustees and the public.

Trustee Ann Teich also expressed concern over the swift timeline. According to the administration, new names will be voted on during the March regular meeting.

“I find the timeline very aggressive,” she said. “I think we need to be very flexible with this because we are going to have communities who want a lot of input.”

Over the next few months Hill said the administration will hold additional meetings with campus advisory committees, students, district stakeholders and alumni members. The intention of changing the name regardless of community feedback was something trustee Amber Elenz said she did not believe had been made clear thus far.

“I want to be very honest with the community,” she said. “We are taking their feedback, but if we are not going to listen, that is a very different process.”

Superintendent Paul Cruz confirmed that the intention is to rename the schools and the purpose of public engagement is to educate the community about why and how the district is choosing to do so.

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