AISD combats Confederate legacies in schools

Malena Heineman, Staff Writer

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John T. Allan Facility, Zachary Taylor Fulmore Middle School, Sidney Lanier Early College High School, John H. Reagan Early College High School and Eastside Memorial Early College High School at the Johnston Campus are all named in memory of significant historical figures of US history. But these figures had more in common than that — they all had Confederate origin.

These names have been normalized in not just Austin, but in schools and facilities throughout the South. They are antiquated remnants of the past, preserving the Confederate legacy and the negative connotations that come with it. However, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) has now begun the process of correcting these names.

On Feb. 26, the AISD Board of Trustees voted to move forward with the renaming of these schools tied to the Confederacy and to begin the renaming process.

A task force was organized in order to come up with the criteria for renaming these schools. Kazique Prince, Education Coordinator for the Mayor, was invited by AISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz to join other community leaders and solve this problem. They created a criteria of renaming schools from either naming them after a person or something of significant importance.

“So if it was like Springs Elementary school, they had something that embodied certain characteristics,” Prince said. “But for a person, it could be someone who was maybe related to education, whether it was broadly or just particularly with a specific school, or if they had a focus on social justice and equity. It was really trying to pick someone who embodies values that are consistent with community interests and focuses.”

Social Studies teacher Ronny Risinger said that it is important to change the name of the schools if it distracts from their primary goal of educating.

“Schools should be places that bring people together to celebrate learning and community,” Risinger said. “If a name on the building is distracting from that mission, then change the name. The building is not a temple to any one person, rather a place to conduct the mission of education.”

Each school was given the opportunity to present ideas of potential name changes for the criteria. But on Oct. 26, the AISD Board of Trustees decided that the decision to rename these schools was to be postponed until after the Nov. 6 election.

Former John T. Allan Elementary and Zachary Fulmore Middle School were scheduled to be renamed. Fulmore will be renamed after Sarah Beth Lively, a woman who taught for 25 years there, and the Allan Facility will be renamed for Anita Ferrales Coy, the longtime principal of the elementary. But Lanier and Reagan High School were not renamed because of miscommunication involving the specifics of the criteria and whether it was mandatory or not.

“And so what I learned later on is that some people just clearly ignored the criteria, and that’s why you have the result of Reagan and Lanier that still have their original names, but just with the first name chopped off,” Prince said.

AISD’s process for renaming has been lengthy, starting and stopping over the past three years, but there is some purpose to their process. According to Prince, that purpose is to involve the community.

“In some school districts across the country, you have people come in with positions and powers of authority and they just make changes,” Prince said. “But I think that here what they were looking for was to have community engagement with the process, so they felt like they were truly buying into it, and that takes a lot of time.”

Although promoting more community involvement is ideal, Prince argued that it shouldn’t inhibit the original goal of the renaming, which he phrased as “reversing institutional racism.”

“I know a lot of people are worried about the money or the time and resources committed to this, but I am a firm believer that in order to create the kind of change you want to see, it does take time and resources,” Prince said. “The problem we are trying to fix is hundreds of years old. So if we invest a little time and energy to change these names, we are able to create the kinds of communities that reflect our real values of people having opportunities.”