DISD board fast-tracks name-change res­o­lu­tion

Even with unan­i­mous vote, trustees man­age to find dishar­mony

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By COR­BETT SMITH Staff Writer cor­bett­smith@dal­las­news.com

Dal­las ISD’s board of trustees unan­i­mously passed a res­o­lu­tion that fast-tracks chang­ing the names of four schools hon­or­ing Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als. But it wasn’t done with­out ran­cor.

Dal­las ISD’s board of trustees tried to make a grand ges­ture Thurs­day night.

Trustees unan­i­mously passed a res­o­lu­tion that fast-tracks chang­ing the names of four schools hon­or­ing Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als. The board will con­sider new names for Al­bert Sid­ney John­ston, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jack­son and William L. Ca­bell ele­men­tary schools by Fe­bru­ary.

It could have been a unit­ing mo­ment for a city still strug­gling with deep-seated racial dis­par­i­ties, for a dis­trict with a long his­tory of racial in­equal­ity, and for a board racked with po­lit­i­cal dis­cord af­ter a failed tax mea­sure in Au­gust.

It could have been. But it wasn’t, not in the at­mos­phere swirling around Dal­las ISD’s cur­rent board.

Con­sider this: There was a mo­ment dur­ing Thurs­day’s meet­ing when the dis­trict’s three black trustees — who were in­stru­men­tal in get­ting the board to con­sider re­nam­ing the schools in the first place — lob­bied to al­low schools to keep ves­tiges of their old Con­fed­er­ate names, in op­po­si­tion to the board’s ma­jor­ity.

Dis­cus­sion de­scended into politi-

the­ater, with trustees po­si­tion­ing, dis­parag­ing and shout­ing over each other, both be­fore the vote and as the night went on.

The school names will change; the ran­cor — bub­bling up af­ter two tax hike bat­tles in lit­tle over a year — shows no sign of abat­ing.

Pre­vi­ous agree­ment

Dur­ing a board brief­ing two weeks ago, the trustees ap­peared to agree to the broad strokes of the yet-to-be-crafted res­o­lu­tion.

Un­der cur­rent board pol­icy, most name changes are achieved through an or­ganic process, with school com­mu­ni­ties de­cid­ing on their own to in­ves­ti­gate and rec­om­mend a new name. Those choices are then voted on by the board in June.

Last year, John B. Hood Mid­dle School did just that. The school’s prin­ci­pal be­gan the process af­ter stu­dents ques­tioned the name, which hon­ored a Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral who was an an­ces­tor of a former DISD board mem­ber. A school ref­er­en­dum chose the new name, Pied­mont G.L.O.B.A.L. Academy, which was later ap­proved by trustees.

White na­tion­al­ist dis­plays in Char­lottesville, Va., in Au­gust and the re­moval of Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues across the coun­try ap­peared to have changed that equa­tion.

Board pres­i­dent Dan Mic­ci­che said that he was ap­proached this month by the dis­trict’s three black trustees — Lew Black­burn, Joyce Fore­man and Bernadette Nu­tall — to put an item on a board brief­ing agenda to re­con­sider some of the dis­trict’s school names.

In the brief­ing, su­per­in­ten­dent Michael Hi­no­josa said the dis­trict should act quickly and de­ci­sively on re­nam­ing schools named af­ter Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als, “giv­ing a charge” to those schools to change their names and a short­ened time­frame to do so.

In or­der to make that hap­pen, DISD staff, with Mic­ci­che’s as­sis­tance, drafted a res­o­lu­tion that would waive its own poli­cies re­gard­ing school names and es­tab­lish a time­line to have changes made by Christ­mas.

Una­nim­ity crum­bles

While the board seemed to be on board two weeks ago, that una­nim­ity fell apart al­most im­me­di­ately Thurs­day.

Dustin Mar­shall, whose trustee dis­trict in­cludes Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jack­son, put forth two amend­ments to the res­o­lu­tion which even­tu­ally passed. He asked for the Lee com­mu­nity to not have to go through the name change process set out by the res­o­lu­tion, since it had al­ready gone through a lengthy process to pick Geneva Heights as the school’s new name. He also asked for the three other schools to have more time to se­lect a re­place­ment, push­ing back the res­o­lu­tion’s De­cem­ber dead­line to Fe­bru­ary.

Dis­cussing the first amend­ment, Nu­tall first asked what was so wrong with the us­age of “Stonewall” or “Jack­son Ele­men­tary School,” then doubted that the school would come to the board with a Con­fed­er­ate name.

“These are grown peo­ple,” Nu­tall said. “I don’t think that they’re gonna come back with Hitler or some­body.”

Be­fore Mar­shall moved to his sec­ond amend­ment, Nu­tall and Fore­man asked for a vote strik­ing lan­guage in the res­o­lu­tion that would have pro­hib­ited schools from us­ing some deriva­tion of the cur­rent name.

“We wanted the com­mu­nity to be in­volved and for the com­mu­nity to make some de­ci­sions,” Fore­man said. “And then we turn right around and try to shut the com­mu­nity out. That’s not what I do.”

Trustee Ed­win Flores said that at first, he wasn’t com­fort­able with the name re­stric­tion in the res­o­lu­tion, “be­cause I thought that per­haps the Ca­bell com­mu­nity would want to be able to keep their col­lat­eral and T-shirts and all that jazz that they’ve gath­ered over the years, un­til I dug into the his­tory and re­ally, the war crimes com­mit­ted by the name­sake of the school.”

While de­scen­dents of Ca­bell be­came “icons of the Dal­las com­mu­nity,” Flores said, it wouldn’t be ap­pro­pri­ate to keep ties with some­one who took part in killing wounded sol­diers in the field dur­ing the Civil War.

Par­tial change?

Mar­shall had ex­plained in his open­ing com­ments that the Stonewall Jack­son com­mu­nity had worked hard to re­brand it­self un­der the “Stonewall” moniker, and that “chang­ing the brand of Stonewall will be hard for many peo­ple.”

There would likely be a push from some mem­bers of that com­mu­nity for the trun­cated “Stonewall” if it was al­lowed, mak­ing an al­ready dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion more di­vi­sive. The guid­ance was given in the res­o­lu­tion, Mar­shall said, in or­der to pre­vent the school from pre­sent­ing the short­ened ver­sion, only to have it re­jected by the board.

“The change should be real,” Mic­ci­che added, “not su­per­fi­cial.”

Fore­man dis­missed those con­cerns, say­ing she didn’t want to “hand­i­cap the com­mu­nity by tak­ing away op­tions.” She later said she doubted that the Stonewall com­mu­nity would come back with that name any­way.

Black­burn said the nam­ing re­stric­tion should be struck, “just to al­low for some dis­cus­sion about it.”

Be­fore tak­ing the fi­nal vote on her own amend­ment, Nu­tall seemed to ques­tion the en­tire is­sue of name changes, dis­miss­ing it as su­per­fi­cial.

The amend­ment to strike the lan­guage failed by a 5-4 vote — the same lines along which trustees were split on two tax rat­i­fi­ca­tion votes over the past 14 months.

Pho­tos by Nathan Hun­singer/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

DISD trustee Joyce Fore­man op­posed lan­guage that limited schools from us­ing some deriva­tion of their cur­rent name, say­ing she didn’t want to “hand­i­cap the com­mu­nity by tak­ing away op­tions.”

Ge­orge David­son holds up a photo of his son while mak­ing his case for a name change of Stonewall Jack­son Ele­men­tary School at Thurs­day’s pub­lic fo­rum.

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