Emily Bloch, Florida Times-Union, June 3, 2021
Nearly a year since the shift was first proposed, Duval County School Board members met back in the Cline auditorium to decide if they would rename nine Jacksonville schools — six with Confederate ties and three with connections to the marginalization of Indigenous people.
Late Tuesday, School Board members voted to rename six schools and keep three school names. The decision aligned entirely with Superintendent Diana Greene’s recommendations and community input. The names approved to change will go into effect on 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 of the sand. The school board meeting lasted four hours.
Notable speakers included a mix of students, school alumni, community members and politicians. Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser spoke on behalf of the 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.”
The School Board’s vote marked the last piece of a multi-step process to consider renaming nine Jacksonville 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 local Confederate monuments. He said he felt like it was time for the School Board to be proactive. He thanked locals for their involvement — even those he disagreed with. Account
Since last year, the Jacksonville community has seen a series of community meetings, a number of rallies and protests and a formal balloting process.
Those results culminated last week with Superintendent Diana Greene’s recommendations to change six schools named after Confederate soldiers and keep three school names that critics say 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
Supporters, like 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. But in a turn of events, some board members went against Greene’s recommendation to keep Andrew Jackson High School’s name. Darryl Willie, with support from Jones and Andersen, pitched an amendment to change the name of the school and go back to the community to find a name that reflects the school’s magnet program offerings. That amendment eventually failed.
The decision marks the close of a heated debate throughout Jacksonville. Last week following the superintendent’s recommendations, name-change supporters like the NAACP Jacksonville Branch and 904WARD held a rally that was met with counter-protesters who waved Confederate flags and sang the Confederate song, “I Wish I Was in Dixie” in the Duval Schools headquarters parking lot.
According to Greene, the estimated cost for renaming secondary schools would be around $287,000 per school and around $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 estimations, the School Board’s vote would cost roughly $1.2 million to implement.