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Confederate name-change delay sparks heated school district debate

Decision prompts pointed public exchange

Two-story building with “Performing Arts” banner
Reagan High School Performing Arts Building
Wikimedia Commons

A proposed delay in a vote on renaming five Austin Independent School District schools has prompted a heated public debate among the districts trustees, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

In November, according to the Statesman, the district’s board of trustees announced its decision to move rapidly in the renaming of five public schools named for people who served the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. The local daily listed the schools in its November story as follows.

• The Allan facility (former Allan Elementary), named for John T. Allan, an officer in the Confederate Army.

• Fulmore Middle School, named for Zachary Taylor Fulmore, a private in the Confederate Army.

• Lanier High School, named for Sidney Lanier, a noted poet who fought for the Confederacy.

• Reagan High School, named for John H. Reagan, the Confederacy’s postmaster general.

• Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston campus, named for Confederate Gen. Albert S. Johnston.

The plan at the time was to form naming committees in January, to solicit input from the public and vote on names in February, and to take action on the renamings in March, according to the Statesman.

The Statesman reported Saturday, however, that trustees recently told administrators they want to postpone the decision until the process is clarified. That decision drew sharp commentary from Trustee Ted Gordon, the only African American board member, who was out of the country for last week’s meeting.

“I think the board has no moral compass and moral spine in terms of wavering on this issue,” Gordon told the daily, which reported in addition that he was “angry the discussion occurred without him and said he would have pushed for a vote to move forward with renaming the schools.”

Gordon elaborated on his position Monday, when he gave a speech in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. that included remarks on the school board’s recent actions, the newspaper reported Tuesday, telling attendees at an event on the University of Texas’ East Mall, that the district had not moved to “remove the names of traitors who took up arms to defend slavery and destroy their nation.” An associate professor and department chair at UT, Gordon attributed the delay to the board’s fear of “the tensions that are produced by the prospects of change.”

In response to Gordon’s statements, trustee Ann Teich wrote in a text message (one of a group obtained by the Statesman) that he is a “coward” or not having first discussed his position with fellow board members before going public with them; in a previous text, she “said Gordon should be ashamed for ‘calling the trustees spineless,’” according to the daily.

Teich, whom the paper reported has voiced concerns about the cost of the name changes as well as about inconsistencies in not district schools named for slave-holders, told the Statesman that Gordon should have flown back from his trip to attend the meeting and that she plans to ask board members to consider a private censure for his remarks. According to the Statesman, Teich said Gordon used “emotionally charged words and violated the board member handbook by behaving unprofessionally and maligning other trustees.”

Austin trustee calls out peers over Confederate school names in MLK speech [AAS]

Austin trustee blasts board for stalling over Confederate name removals [AAS]

AISD to change Confederate school names, even if community disagrees [AAS]