Name change at Robert E. Lee Elementary sparks dispute between parents

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The places of honor for confederate heroes in our modern age was argued out Thursday night in the dispute over the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Austin. Parents and others voiced their opinions about whether AISD should change the name, and it is not the only Austin school coming under scrutiny. The fight flared up with the confederate flag flap last year after the Charleston shooting. The statue of Jefferson Davis was taken down from the UT mall and now comes the name of Robert E. Lee, a school that’s been around since 1939.

Robert E. Lee Elementary, of course, was named for the confederacy’s greatest general, a man with mixed feelings about slavery, but a great love for his native Virginia. Thursday, an advisory panel heard impassioned pleas from both sides. They will make a recommendation to the superintendent about whether the name should stay or go.

Among those favoring a change were two Lee Elementary parents. Daniel Oppenheimer explained, “It’s actually an active deterrent for black families and families of color to attend our school. I think that’s reason enough why it’s worth thinking about changing.” Jessica Grogan added, “I’d say my main reason is it is alienating to certain families and I feel like it doesn’t represent our community values.” But longtime resident Carlton Wilkes countered, “Robert E. Lee was one of our greatest Americans this country has ever produced, bar none, with the possible exception of George Washington. My goodness, if we don’t want our kids to emulate him who do we want them to emulate?”

There’s some cost involved, approximately $14,000 for signage replacement at the school, but that didn’t seem to bother either side. The advisory panel will report to AISD next month. Robert E. Lee is one of five Austin schools with some confederacy issues, and consideration of changes, including Eastside Memorial on the Johnston campus, Sidney Lanier High, Travis High for the nickname The Rebels, and Reagan High, named not for the President Ronald but rather John Reagan, postmaster for the confederacy.

There are nineteen schools in Texas named for Robert E. Lee and some others are going through similar disputes. High schools would be more expensive to change over, approximately $77,000 for the signage at each and an additional $150,000 apiece for sports equipment and uniforms. The superintendent will eventually make recommendations to the school board, which has final say.

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