JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly a year after the shift was proposed, a school board met at an auditorium to decide whether to rename nine schools – six that honored Confederate leaders and three with names that critics said contribute to the marginalization of Indigenous people.
Late Tuesday, Duval Country School Board members voted to rename six schools and keep three names. The decision aligned with Superintendent Diana Greene’s recommendations and community input. The name changes will go into effect Aug. 3, according to a district spokesman.
“As a board and a community, we’ve done really hard things. But we can get this done,” School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen said, adding that it’s not forgetting history but moving forward. “We know who we want to be as a school district.”
The socially distanced auditorium and an outdoor tented overflow space were packed with community members, many wearing white “Change the Name” T-shirts. About 60 speakers signed up for public comment with a mix of talking points on both sides. The school board meeting lasted four hours.
More: 6 things you need to know about the Duval County school renaming process
Speakers included students, alumni, community members and politicians. Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser spoke on behalf of a school in her jurisdiction, Joseph Finegan Elementary. She said she supported the voting process and supports the community’s will to change the school’s name.
“Keeping the names of Confederate generals in our children’s schools is a slap in the face to every African American that attends these schools,” Wells Todd of Take’Em Down Jax said. “Those that oppose the names being changed are acknowledging their support for the Confederacy and all that it stood for.”
Deyona Burton, a freshly graduated senior class president from Robert E. Lee High School, stood before the school board in her gown, cords and medallion. She pleaded that her class be the last to graduate from Lee.
“My class has been through a lot. … Do not let all this pain be for nothing,” she said. “We preserve history by creating a diverse curriculum and teaching history honestly. It’s been a long day and an even longer process. Make the appropriate changes across the board, so we can all go home.”
The school board’s vote marked the last piece of a multistep process to rename the schools, which was launched last June after board member and former City Council President Warren Jones filed a bill.
Jones said he was moved by the death of George Floyd and Mayor Lenny Curry’s call to remove Confederate monuments. He said it was time for the school board to be proactive. He thanked locals for their involvement – even those he disagreed with.
Since last year, the Jacksonville community has seen a series of community meetings, rallies and protests and a formal balloting process.
Those results culminated last week in Greene’s recommendations to change six schools named after Confederate soldiers and keep three school names that critics said are tied to colonizers.
The school board voted to rename the following schools:
- Joseph Finegan Elementary to Anchor Academy.
- Stonewall Jackson Elementary to Hidden Oaks Elementary School.
- Jefferson Davis Middle to Charger Academy.
- Kirby-Smith Middle to Springfield Middle School.
- J.E.B. Stuart Middle to Westside Middle School.
- Robert E. Lee High to Riverside High School.
Ben Frazier – who founded the Northside Coalition – said the approved renamings mark a turning point in Jacksonville.
“The school board’s decision to rename six schools in Jacksonville is a giant step forward in righting a racist ideology. We don’t need schools named in honor of slave-holding generals,” he said. “That our children had to go to schools that were named to honor a disgraceful past was an injustice. The school board’s vote tonight rejects those ideas and is a victory for Jacksonville.”
The board voted to keep the names Jean Ribault Middle and High School. Some board members went against Greene’s recommendation to keep Andrew Jackson High School’s name. Darryl Willie, supported by Jones and Andersen, pitched an amendment that would have dropped the name of the school and asked the community to find an alternative that reflected the school’s magnet program offerings. That amendment failed.
Superintendent’s recommendations: Superintendent recommends renaming 6 Confederate-named schools
‘The connection of oppression’: Jacksonville schools named after colonizers debated
‘A name that represents me’: Young people lead the push for Lee High rename
Board member Charlotte Joyce motioned to amend school renaming recommendations with language that specified where funding would come from.
School district personnel said that wouldn’t work legally. Jones said funding would be better scrutinized during budget discussions. The amendment failed. Joyce made the same amendment motion for each school, supported by board members Cindy Pearson and Lori Hershey.
Motions to rename each of the six schools passed 5-2, Hershey and Joyce voting against the renames. Joyce raised concerns about the legitimacy of the community voting process, which was run by the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office.
Jones said it was frustrating that no one was concerned about the “1925 cancel culture.” He asked where the board members and constituents’ concerns were when Black people couldn’t vote, run for office, sit in front of the bus.
“I’m voting to change the names because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Last week, name change supporters such as the NAACP Jacksonville Branch and 904WARD held a rally that was met with counterprotesters who waved Confederate flags and sang the Confederate song “I Wish I Was in Dixie” in the Duval schools headquarters’ parking lot.
“This has been a time of intense racial reckoning, and this debate has been a piece of it,” said activist and artist Hope McMath. “It is important that those of us who have not carried the same pain as others stand in the fray. I ask that all nine names change of these schools. Because they will change – whether it’s tonight with your vote or two years, or five years from now.”
She said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Jacksonville, because of your brilliant leadership, could be on the right side of history?”
Duval schools designated three separate protest areas in the headquarters’ parking lot: one for pro-renamers, one for anti-renamers and one for anti-maskers.
Greene referred to a debate in 2014 surrounding the renaming of Nathan B. Forrest High School to Westside High School. She said the graduation rate after the school was renamed improved by nearly 30 percentage points from 62% to 90%.
“Their high school diplomas mean something. Someone in this room made a decision that ensured they could walk across that stage. The things they do made a difference,” Greene said.
She said Lee High School’s graduation rate improved from 52% before 2014 to 85.6%.
“This is a very tough decision that this board was brave enough to initiate,” she said. “It’s a very tough process that the team who works for [Duval County Public Schools] was brave enough to encounter. The recommendation, one could say, is brave, but it really isn’t. Any time I’m making a decision for children, it’s all about making a difference for them.”
The school board meeting garnered national attention in a morning spotlight on NPR radio, and the Southern Poverty Law Center released a statement before the vote:
“Today, the Duval County School Board can seize an opportunity to move Jacksonville forward by removing racist names from six of its public schools,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said. “The Jacksonville community have rallied and most importantly, cast votes in favor of removing these racist names. No matter today’s decision, the Southern Poverty Law Center will continue to stand in solidarity with the coalition of stakeholders who support reimagining public spaces that best personify Jacksonville today.”
According to Greene, the estimated cost for renaming secondary schools would be $287,000 per school and $32,000 for elementary schools. The price for elementary school renaming is significantly less since those schools lack team sports and the kind of extracurricular activities middle and high schools have.
Based on those estimates, the school board’s vote would cost roughly $1.2 million to implement.
Not all of the name change expenses will come from Duval schools’ budget.
The district said renaming costs would come from a mix of general funding, private donations, capital funding and internal accounts. The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has raised more than $70,000 toward school renaming. Donations shot up after the school board’s approvals, including an anonymous donation of $50,000 and dozens of donations Tuesday and Wednesday. School sales tax funding is not intended for renaming, a concern brought up repeatedly by locals who wanted to see the names stay the same.
“Tonight what we do, the goal is that it’s going to make a difference for whether it’s one of our students or thousands of our students,” Greene said. “We are going to get beyond this.”
Follow Emily Bloch on Twitter @emdrums.