T.F. South stud­ies drop­ping nick­name

D215 Board, 70% of stu­dents sur­veyed sup­port the change

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Zak Koeske

A ma­jor­ity of District 215 Board mem­bers said they sup­port chang­ing Thorn­ton Frac­tional South High School’s nick­name after a sur­vey found 70% of cur­rent stu­dents fa­vor ditch­ing the Rebels moniker, which was cho­sen in the 1950s for its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Con­fed­er­acy.

The board has yet to for­mally an­nounce or ap­prove the nick­name’s re­tire­ment, but agreed Wed­nes­day at its com­mit­tee of the whole meet­ing to “press ahead with a plan for chang­ing the name” on the strength of the sur­vey re­sults.

“I’ll sup­port that for sure,” said board Pres­i­dent Michael Bolz, who rec­om­mended plac­ing a mo­tion on the board’s next meet­ing agenda to “make if of­fi­cial.”

Four other board mem­bers then fol­lowed with state­ments af­firm­ing their sup­port for chang­ing the school’s nick­name, which stu­dents chose in 1958 after the Thorn­ton Frac­tional district was di­vided into North and South high

schools.

The South stu­dents picked Rebels, a name used for Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers and their sup­port­ers dur­ing the Civil War, be­cause they saw them­selves as break­ing away or “se­ced­ing” from what be­came known as Thorn­ton Frac­tional North, district of­fi­cials have said.

T.F. South sub­se­quently adopted a Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag as its ban­ner and a South­ern sol­dier as its mas­cot to ex­tend the anal­ogy.

To the then en­tirely white stu­dent body, the choices seemed “clever and his­tor­i­cal,” ac­cord­ing to an archived Chicago Tri­bune ar­ti­cle, but as more Black fam­i­lies moved into the district the Con­fed­er­ate relics started to at­tract scru­tiny as sym­bols of slav­ery and op­pres­sion.

The flag, which waved atop the school un­til 1993, was re­moved first, fol­lowed some time later by the Ritchie Rebel mas­cot.

The nick­name has been the “glar­ing hold­out,” Bolz said last month.

While the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of re­tain­ing the Rebels nick­name at a school where 62.7% of stu­dents are Black has been raised from time to time over the years, it wasn’t un­til the po­lice killing of Ge­orge Floyd in late May and the na­tional dis­cus­sion about race that fol­lowed that District 215 sought se­ri­ously to reckon with its own racial legacy.

“It’s come up ev­ery cou­ple years and there never seems to be enough sup­port to just hands down re­move it,” Bolz said.

Un­til June, when the board voted to dis­sem­i­nate an elec­tronic sur­vey ask­ing stu­dents about re­tir­ing the Rebels nick­name, a dis­cus­sion of chang­ing the name had never be­fore made it onto a meet­ing agenda, he said.

Sh­eryl Black, a for­mer District 215 board mem­ber who has crit­i­cized its han­dling of racial eq­uity is­sues, said a stu­dent had brought her con­cerns about the nick­name to the board in 2018 and again in 2019, but was ig­nored.

“We never dis­cussed it as a board and when I tried to bring it up for dis­cus­sion I was told it wasn’t the right time,” said Black, who was the only African Amer­i­can board mem­ber dur­ing much of her two-term ten­ure. “Un­for­tu­nately, many times peo­ple know it’s a prob­lem, but some­times it’s eas­ier to ig­nore it than to ad­dress it, and I think that was the case here.”

Mia Pet­ti­grew, a 2019 T.F. South grad­u­ate who sent the board emails and wrote an es­say call­ing for chang­ing the Rebels nick­name when she was a stu­dent, spoke last month at a prayer vigil for racial eq­uity held out­side Thorn­ton Frac­tional’s ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter.

“I’m aware that it’s ab­surd to ask the school to apol­o­gize for things that they al­lowed in the past,” she said at the July 11 gath­er­ing. “How­ever, T-F South should re­spect their stu­dents enough to change the name to some­thing more racially sen­si­tive.”

Black said she was ex­cited, but not sur­prised that a ma­jor­ity of stu­dents sup­ported re­tir­ing the Rebels nick­name, although she ques­tioned why it was nec­es­sary to put the ques­tion to stu­dents in the first place.

“I think the board could just have made a de­ci­sion,” she said, echo­ing a sen­ti­ment that other Black par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers have shared. “Es­pe­cially since they’re now say­ing they’re fo­cus­ing on a cul­ture of eq­uity, it would make more sense to make that de­ter­mi­na­tion as a board. We know this is of­fen­sive and we’re try­ing to ad­dress things that are of­fen­sive and racially in­sen­si­tive, so as a board we’re mak­ing this de­ci­sion.”

Vice Pres­i­dent LeAnn Re­vis ad­dressed those crit­i­cisms Wed­nes­day night after throw­ing her sup­port be­hind the name change.

“As far as I was con­cerned, that was an eq­uity in­formed de­ci­sion be­cause it was let­ting the stu­dents take own­er­ship, not hav­ing the board ar­bi­trar­ily and uni­lat­er­ally make this de­ci­sion for them,” she said. “I wanted to be sure it was a stu­dent driven de­ci­sion. Giv­ing them own­er­ship and am­pli­fy­ing their voices.”

It’s not clear how many of T.F. South’s 1,800 stu­dents re­sponded to the nick­name sur­vey, but roughly 70% of re­spon­dents were sup­port­ive of chang­ing the moniker, board mem­bers said.

The district hasn’t re­leased any other in­for­ma­tion about the sur­vey or its plans for se­lect­ing a new nick­name, but board mem­bers have said the name change process would be stu­dent driven and is likely to last for the bet­ter part of a year.

A district spokes­woman said of­fi­cials were too busy to re­spond to ques­tions about the stu­dent sur­vey and the district’s next steps.

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