Policy changes surrounding school name changes discussed by Austin ISD trustees

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Changes to Austin ISD’s campus renaming policy were discussed Monday night by district trustees in light of potential name changes slated for five schools associated with Confederate soldiers and officials.

Schools under consideration 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.

At a January board operations meeting, trustees Geronimo Rodriguez, Edmund Gordon and Cindy Anderson were assigned revision of the district’s policy so it aligns with the current discussions surrounding possible name changes.

Some of the significant changes include:

  • Addition of language prohibiting the use of any race or ethnic groups as mascots or school nicknames
  • An expansion to the list of reasons which would initiate a name change, including “participation in acts of discrimination, prejudice or bias of the basis of race, color, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or any other basis prohibited by law
  • A new section which requires the district to periodically review all names to ensure they continue to comply with its core beliefs and values

Trustee Ann Teich said she planned to abstain from the vote and took particular issue with the policy language, which gives the board “final authority and responsibility for naming and renaming district facilities.” Community engagement has been touted as an important part of the process, she said, but the policy did not clarify the weight of that input.

“If it is ultimately our decision, let’s just wipe out the community engagement piece,” Teich said. “Does this board want to take full responsibility of naming and renaming schools? Do we want to dictate or collaborate?”

Without consideration of community input, trustee Julie Cowan agreed that she could not support the policy.

“For us to not take [community input]into account is a little hard for me to accept,” she said.

Cowan also emphasized a need to review curriculum related to the Civil War, slavery and social studies to ensure it is as “robust and honest as it needs to be.”

Language that emphasized respecting cultural differences and values when naming or renaming schools concerned trustee Yasmin Wagner, who said the policy could be twisted to embolden future trustees whose values may not align with the current board.

“If we ended up with a faction of the board who wanted to reflect a culture of hate and supremacy, they could say that reflected their cultural views and values,” she said. “You could have people who say that participating in the Confederate war was not an act of moral turpitude.”

Trustee Edmund Gordon said his steadfast support of renaming the schools is reinforced by his doubt that the board would initiate on-campus education about who these figures were and how they influenced history.

“This is a real history of pain and injustice,” he said. “If we can’t even have the conversation necessary to recognize that and decide what we will do about it, the only thing to do is take them down and try to get over it all.”

Renaming a school can carry a cost of between $13,800 to $77,000 depending on the campus level, Brian Hill, special projects lead for the superintendent, said in a November 2017 meeting.

Trustees will vote Feb. 26 to begin the renaming process. A date for a vote on new names is scheduled for May 21.

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Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 and is the editor of the Richardson edition.
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