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AISD board approves one Confederate name change, delays others

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 by Jack Craver

Eight months after voting to find new names for five facilities named after veterans of the Confederate military, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees on Monday approved renaming one building, but punted on the remaining four.

As a result of the board’s action, the Allan Center, formerly named for Confederate Army Officer John T. Allan, will now be named for the late Anita Ferrales Coy. In her 30-year career with AISD, Coy was a teacher, a principal (including at the former Allan Elementary) and finally the district superintendent. She died in 2012.

Trustee Jayme Mathias, whose east side district includes the facility, spoke warmly about Coy, whom he lauded for her “innovation” as a district leader.

Mathias nevertheless acknowledged tensions in the community surrounding the renaming of facilities, saying that people’s identities are often entwined with the name of the school they attended.

“When you start touching the name of a school, you start touching people’s identity,” he said.

Six trustees voted in favor of the renaming, with Trustee Ann Teich in opposition and newly elected Trustee Kristin Ashy abstaining.

Before the vote, Teich delivered an emotional statement explaining her objection to the proposed renamings. She argued that many of the names targeted for changes have long since lost any meaningful association with veterans of a “failed state” that they originally paid homage to. The almost entirely minority student body at Lanier High School, she said, had a bond with “Lanier,” but not with Sidney Lanier, the musician and poet who served in the Confederate Army.

The drive to change names, Teich said, “has hurt alumni. It’s hurt current students and staff.”

Teich could not “in good conscience” approve the spending necessary to change signage when the district is desperately seeking spare dollars to fund basic classroom services and teacher salaries. The Lanier name change alone would cost an estimated $400,000, she said.

She noted that the district was not considering renaming Austin High despite the fact that Stephen F. Austin was a staunch defender of slavery. Indeed, the Texas Revolution was at least partially prompted by resistance from Texas colonists to Mexico’s abolition of slavery.

Teich said she would support removing the first name and middle initial from the facilities, while leaving the last names in place.

Newly elected Trustee LaTisha Anderson said that she wanted to delay consideration of renaming Reagan High School, named for John H. Reagan, a former U.S. congressman from Texas who fought for the Confederacy.

“I’ve heard concerns about the process,” said Anderson, who unseated Trustee Ted Gordon and is now the board’s only African-American member. “I want to hear what the (Reagan Campus Advisory Council) and the community have to say.”

To the surprise of many in the room, the board did not act on any of the other proposed name changes. Mathias began to motion for another name change but quickly withdrew his motion after being advised by Board President Geronimo Rodriguez that it would be a breach of etiquette to make a motion on behalf of a school in another trustee’s district.

Earlier in the evening, residents spoke in favor of renaming the schools after various community figures. A large contingent advocated renaming Fulmore Middle School after Sarah Lively, a longtime former teacher and volunteer at the school. Others argued for naming the school after John Treviño Jr., Austin’s first Latino City Council member.

The other school that is being considered for a name change is Eastside Memorial at the Johnston Campus. The Johnston Campus is a vestige of its former name, Albert Sidney Johnston High School, named for a Confederate general who died in battle.

Photo via Google Maps.

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