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Some argue proposed new names for Austin schools don’t leave Confederacy behind

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 by Claire McInerny, KUT

Despite momentum earlier this year to rid Austin Independent School District properties of links to the Confederacy, the district’s board of trustees is facing pushback over proposed new names.

At a meeting last night to publicly discuss recommendations for Sidney Lanier and John H. Reagan high schools, the Allan Center and Zachary Taylor Fulmore Middle School, Trustee Ted Gordon expressed disappointment that both the Lanier and Reagan communities didn’t want to leave their names behind.

The committee tasked with recommending names for John H. Reagan suggested just dropping the first name and going by Reagan. It said many people who responded to the district’s outreach said they didn’t want to erase their personal history and the school’s significance in the community.

The committee representing Sidney Lanier also recommended dropping the first name, though that was its third choice.

“(The names) represent a history that I think we should have a hard time being proud of,” said Gordon, whose district includes Reagan. “If Austin isn’t there yet, I think we should admit that. If this board isn’t there yet, I think we should admit that. I think we should keep the names the same.”

He said he would support putting forward Reagan without the first name if that is what the community wants, but he did ask the district administration to address this history.

“So maybe we could spend $5,000 to actually do some education in our schools around this,” he said. “Kids at least should know what the names of their schools mean besides a football championship.”

A task force evaluating the committees’ suggestions also found that just dropping first names did not meet the criteria “which was critical to the purpose of the renaming.”

Trustee Ann Teich, whose district includes Lanier, said people complained that the process didn’t include them from the beginning. The school was granted a two-week extension to come up with additional names so students and staff could have more input.

Teich also expressed concern over the cost of changing the names, saying the district has probably been too conservative.

“I would appreciate having a full cost, at least for Lanier, of what it’s going to take to change all the names,” she said. “This goes down as deep as … the (agriculture) department and asking how much it would cost to replace, say, 100 whiteboards that they use in competition that all have the name Lanier on them.”

There was little discussion over the proposed name for the Allan Center; the task force said the one recommended, Anita Ferrales Coy, met the criteria. The first choice for Fulmore, Sarah Beth Lively, also moved forward.

The board did not address a new name for Eastside Memorial at the Johnston Campus, which is undergoing renovations. Members of the community want to pick a new name once the building is finished.

The decision ultimately rests with the board, which can come up with entirely new names on its own. It’s set to vote at its Oct. 22 meeting.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT.

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