Robert E. Lee High School Students Are Fighting to Rename Their School | #students | #parents

Debates about whose version of history gets recognized have proliferated in recent years. On the one hand are those who romanticized historically revisionist views of the South and make it clear that the Civil War was fought to retain the economic advantages and power dynamics of slavery. On the other are those who defend the region’s “heritage” and frame the conflict as a heroic fight to sustain autonomy against a tyrannical government. Save the School Names, a local committee, claims renaming local schools will “disrupt their historic identities.”

“One person said, ‘It wasn’t me who owned slaves, it was my grandfather. It’s time for you all to move on.’ I’ve heard from other people at the name-change meetings, ‘Forget and forgive,’” Mykyla recalls. “My whole thing is, if we are forgetting and forgiving, why can’t you guys forget first? Why can’t we just throw the name out and get one we can all agree to and move forward?”

Deyona Burton, senior class president at Lee and member of the Student Advisory Council, has been mobilizing students by holding rallies at the school board building, calling school board members, and meeting with benefactors of the name-change effort. The 18-year-old is also trying to calm concerns over the estimated $287,000 that it would cost to fund the school renaming, including signage, replacement uniforms, and refinishing athletic fields. Deyona worked with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund to organize a fund that will allow the community to support the renaming through tax-deductible donations. She says this revenue source removes the “fake concern of money” that she claims is coming from mostly white alumni.

As the late April vote on the name draws closer, Deyona and Mykyla are working in tandem to increase sign-ups for the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), which they say will be a vital source of support. Eligible voters include students, members of the school’s faculty and staff, the School Advisory Council (SAC), members of the PTA, community members within the school’s attendance zone, and alumni of the school. Individuals can cast one vote within each category they are eligible in. The pair claim that alumni were signing up for the PTA to covertly influence the ballot, so they have been steering their student-led movement towards increasing parent engagement to boost their own numbers. While the board will take this community vote under consideration, it is the board members who have the final say.

Deyona says it’s been difficult to keep spirits and motivation up among students who feel demoralized by the name-change fight.

“Students are outraged. And when they can’t go to the meetings, they cling on to the viral videos where all we are seeing are opposing comments that aren’t amplifying the voices of the students. We’re feeling marginalized because we’re not really being heard,” Deyona says. “It’s like we’re doing everything right, ’cause you see it, but are you hearing us?”

Vincente Waugh, a 2019 alum of Lee, is the cofounder of EVAC, a youth-led organization at the school that has connected teens once labeled as “at-risk” and “gang members” with tools and support to create tangible solutions to their shared experiences with violence and racism. So far, EVAC students have met with President Obama, presented at Harvard University, and even testified on Capitol Hill. EVAC has been using its vast social media presence to boost the conversation surrounding Lee, but Vincente, who faced homelessness during his high-school years, is dismayed that minority students who disproportionately face poverty and resource deprivation are forced to be on the front lines of this fight.

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