Robert E. Lee High School will get a new name after the North East Independent School District Board of trustees voted to change it Tuesday night. A similar petition driven by students to rename the school failed two years ago. Several board members indicated recent violent events lead to re-opening the issue.
The decision among the seven NEISD trustees was unanimous. Although school board President Shannon Grona did not favor a name change she says the Robert E. Lee name has become a lightning rod for hate and unrest.
“With this latest round of racial tension, the safety and security of our students at the Lee campus became a concern,” Grona said.
In 2015, a previous board voted 5-2 to keep the name. Trustee Tony Jasso – a new addition to the board -said events like Charlottesville brought the debate to the forefront again.
“These symbols that seek to memorialize leader of the confederacy have become like dog whistles for groups that espouse hate and violence and do not possess anything close to American values,” he added.
Brigette Perkins was also not in favor of the name change but said she felt deeply disturbed by the actions in Charlottesville.
“Sadly it took the life of a young woman, I am outraged of course, but do I think it is a reason to change the name of this school, I personally do not. In my opinion, people that spew hatred are not people I listen to. Giving them and their hatred attention is what fuels them to continue,” Perkins said.
Catalina Rocha is a Lee Senior who helped lead the petition. She and other students wore buttons with a hashtag that said #ChangeLee. “I think it’s important to make sure students are in an environment that is safe and promotes positivity,” she said
A new name was not decided at the meeting. The cost is unknown. Board Member Sandi Wolff says the cost could be split between the district and private fundraising by the students.
“That was part of their proposed plan – it would not be a burden to the school district.”
She suggested one way to reduce the cost of the change would be to rename it after another "Lee." She recommended author Harper Lee who wrote To Kill A Mocking Bird.
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) August 30, 2017
Wolff - who helped lead the charge - is stepping down from the board on September 8th due to residency requirements. She is moving out of the district.
Several board members expressed concern about the potential cost saying the district shouldn’t be spending money on a name change when it can’t afford to give teachers a raise this year.
Arthur Gutierrez was part of the inaugural freshman class when the school opened in 1958, He opposed the change. “I hope there’s not a continuation of this. It seems to be perpetuating. It solves nothing. It advances nothing.”
A timeline or process for the change was not set but it could happen as early as the 2018-19 school year.