Lee High School’s New Name Has a Familiar Ring

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A member of the Lee High School baseball team sports a Volunteers shirt.

The North East ISD school board voted 5-2 at its regular board meeting on Monday night to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School to Legacy of Educational Excellence (LEE) High School. The name change will go into effect with the 2018-2019 school year.

“Depending on the new name, the cost to the district could be extensive,” Board President Shannon Grona said. “The marquee, signs around campus, the end zone, all of the athletic uniforms – dance, cheer, and band uniforms, etc. As trustees, it is our responsibility to be fiscally responsible. We can minimize the number of things that need to be changed at the school.”

The LEE acronym would minimize the financial burden to the district, Grona said, and keeping the name would also “help the community heal.” The board does not have the authority to decide the mascot and colors, but Grona recommended keeping the Volunteer mascot as well as the red and gray school colors.

Anger in the community has been evident since the impending name change was announced, Grona said, calling the situation a “no-win.”

“It was clear that the community lashed out at us,” she added.

NEISD board President Shannon Grona listens to a student opposing the name change during the NEISD board meeting.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

NEISD Board President Shannon Grona listens to a student speak against the high school’s name change.

Following a student petition, the board voted unanimously to rename the school on Aug. 29. The students behind the petition, according to STEM Academy senior Kendall Kloza, are primarily from the Northeast School of the Arts (NESA), and not truly part of the Lee campus. Both the STEM Academy and NESA, along with the International School of the Americas, are magnet schools on the Lee campus.

“If [the NESA students] had a problem, they shouldn’t have come [to this school],” Kloza told reporters after the board voted to change the name.

On Sept. 18, NEISD opened up a public submission process for names to replace Lee. Of the more than 2,400 submissions, 542 met the district’s criteria, which included that the new name be “an idea” rather than a person, district spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor stated in an email on Oct. 2. More than 200 people proposed “no change.”

Board members exhibit submissions that do not meet criteria for the high school's new name.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Board members exhibit submissions that did not meet criteria for the high school’s new name.

The district did not post the complete list due to profanity and offensive language, including racial slurs aimed at black students. At the board meeting, however, some of the offensive names were displayed, but not read aloud, to demonstrate the “hatefulness” that had been displayed throughout the submission process.

“I was appalled by some of the suggestions,” Grona said. Such hatefulness demonstrated that “times are different, tensions are high, and that [changing the name of the school] was the right decision,” she said.

On the contrary, Kloza said. The 1,900 “bogus” name submissions showed that the community did not agree with the name change, which amounted to a “hysterical reaction to the news cycle” after white nationalists and counterprotesters clashed at a rally over the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12. One woman was killed when a car drove into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Kendall Kloza cries during the NEISD board meeting as the proposed name change to her school are discussed.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

STEM Academy senior Kendall Kloza cries during the NEISD board meeting as the school’s name change is discussed.

The name change prioritized students’ safety and the school’s focus on education as Confederate monument protests broke out in San Antonio and around the country in August, board members said.

That concern was misplaced, STEM Academy senior Douglas Karam said, addressing the board. “Removing the name does not remove hate and racism,” Karam said. As a person of Lebanese and Hispanic descent, “I know what racism looks like,” and he had not seen it at Lee. “This name change has been a colossal distraction,” he said.

Three STEM academy students spoke against the name change before the board and were joined by several others on the steps of the NEISD administrative building after the vote was cast. Kloza and her soccer teammates cried as they accused the board of taking away their community pride.

“We’re already outsiders in this district,” STEM Academy senior Selah Evans said. Their soccer team has a losing record, she said, and lacks the equipment and facilities to compete with other NEISD high schools. However, Evans said, “we have school pride.” The name change would take that away and ostracize the school even more because it would now be “the only high school not named after a person.”

Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, was not the only problematic namesake in NEISD, Kloza and Evans said. Theodore Roosevelt openly “cheated on his wife,” she said, and “nobody liked” General Douglas MacArthur, and felt he “couldn’t be trusted.” Every public person in history has some character flaw, Kloza said. (It should be noted that Franklin D. Roosevelt is known for having had an affair, not Theodore Roosevelt.)

The students did not accept that some people see Robert E. Lee’s Confederate legacy as a continuing issue.

“There is no racism at Lee,” Evans said.

While the soccer players each live in other enrollment zones, they chose to go to Lee through the open enrollment STEM Academy.

“I went to Robert E. Lee to make a change,” Kloza said. “This is not the change I wanted to see.”

While comforting crying students outside the board meeting, Lee alumnus Tim Adams, who bills himself as “the world’s only conservative community organizer” on Facebook, pledged to unseat the board members who are up for election.

Board members Jim Wheat and Edd White cast the dissenting votes.

NEISD board member Edd White shares his view on the distinction between Lee and L.E.E.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

NEISD board member Edd White shares his view on the distinction between Lee and L.E.E.

While the acronym is intended to minimize cost, it was “virtually impossible” to estimate the cost of the change before knowing what the new name would be, NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy said.

Wheat asked if the LEE acronym was put in place as a way of justifying the decision and to “appease people along the way.”

Over the years, the school’s Confederate identity has been whittled away to make the Robert E. Lee name more “palatable,” White said. The Confederate flag was removed and the school song was changed from “Dixie.” The LEE acronym would be one more such accommodation, White said, but predicted that the board would have to reckon with it again in the future. “You’re trying to put lipstick on a pig,” White said.

13 thoughts on “Lee High School’s New Name Has a Familiar Ring

  1. Ive always thought the name should be changed, and this name is a horrible replacement. Who wants to graduate from a high school that is an acronym? NESA, ISA & STEM are different because there is a clear purpose for the name. This is just a bandaid. Very lame. The fact that the name is still “LEE”, even after community involvement and backlash, speaks volumes of the board. How can anyone in their right mind see this “name change” as a suitable replacement?

    The young girl is correct…as a Lee alum, I remember how our school was considered different and sub-par compared to the rest of NEISD. This name makes it sound more like an alternative academy than a regular high school, and will probably only exacerbate the feeling many students experience of being separate and “different” from the rest of the district.

    I hope they truly fix this name one day.

  2. I’m in my right mind most of the time, and I see it as a suitable replacement, but not for the proper reason. I do agree with you that I hope they truly fix it some day – back to honor General Robert E. Lee, an officer in the Corps of Engineers,
    officer in the Mexican War, superintendent of West Point, the commander of the Federal Forces, military advisor to President Jefferson Davis, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the president of Washington College in Virginia (now known as Washington and Lee University).

    • Robert E. Lee himself wrote in 1869 “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”

      It goes against the direct wishes of the man himself to memorialize him in this way. Let us follow the wishes Gen. Lee and fully rename this school and continue to heed his advice as remove Confederate memorials from public places of honor.

      • Andy you have taken the quote out of context. Lee said that in refusing an invitation to help raise memorials at Gettysburg, the scene of a battle, not in memorializing our respected leaders.
        (Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War, page 215 by Michael Adams)

        Do you feel we should obliterate the Alamo, our most representative mark of civil strife in Texas?

        • Thank you for providing me with further context for the Robert E. Lee quote that I referenced. I decided to look up the full letter and I stand by my assertion that Lee would have opposed erecting a statue of himself in the lobby of a high school just as he did not support erecting monuments at Gettysburg “for the purpose of marking upon the ground by enduring memorials of granite the position & movements of the Armies on the field.” The letter itself is not very long, simply an RSVP to decline an invitation. Yet he still closes with a broad reference to “marks of civil strife” (note the use of the plural) which I take to mean any effort to glorify the losing side in the Civil War.

          Regarding your out-of-the-blue-reference to the Alamo- no, I do not support erasing history. I support providing a full picture of what the place was and is. The proposed updates to the area surrounding the Alamo will hopefully help preserve and contextualize the entire history of that location and what it means to the natives, to Mexicans, to Texans, to Americans, and to the world. UNESCO recently named the Alamo a World Heritage Site, in case you hadn’t heard. I am fully aware that history is ugly and that people and places in history have their own ugly pasts that we may not like, but there is a difference between lionizing a historically significant general outside of any historical setting and preserving a significant place in our state and national history.

          Lee HS was built and named in 1958, nearly 100 years after the South lost the Civil War and just four short years after desegregation was mandated by the Supreme Court in 1954. I sincerely doubt that those in power and those in the majority in Northeast ISD were simply interested in honoring the legacy of Robert E. Lee. The 1950s were a time of Jim Crow laws and racial redlining of school districts. It was also a time of surging action by those in the civil rights movement. The legacy of the naming of Lee High School is not one of “Southern Heritage” but of racial intimidation. That is the legacy that those of us seeking a name change wish to move past.

          PS I looked up the letter from Gen. Lee on the Lee Family Archives website. This is the sort of historical preservation that is needed to actually remember the lessons our nation learned from the Civil War. No one is calling for this website to be taken down because it allows us a fuller picture of the man and who he was in his time.

          • Thanks for the link. Lee is very specific in reference to “enduring memorials of granite the position & movements of the Armies on the field.” That’s why I included the Alamo, which was a battlefield. Yes I am very familiar with the Alamo. Even written a few articles for the Rivard Report.

            Here is Lee’s letter:
            Lexington Va: 5 Aug 1869
            Dear Sir:
            Absence from Lexington has prevented my receiving until today your letter of the 26th Ulto: enclosing an invitation from the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, to attend a meeting of the officers engaged in that battle at Gettysburg, for the purpose of marking upon the ground by enduring memorials of granite the position & movements of the Armies on the field.
            My engagements will not permit me to be present, & I believe if there I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.
            Very respy your obt Sevt
            R E Lee

  3. There are some significant flaws in NEISD’s stated justifications for the board’s decision. For instance, Superintendent Gotardy’s statement that “it was ‘virtually impossible’ to estimate the cost of the change before knowing what the new name would be” is simply untrue.

    Further, the idea that NESA or other magnet school students are not full members of the campus is preposterous, and the attitude of “love it or leave it” reeks of intolerance. As a parent of NESA and ISA alumni, I experienced my children as valued participants in this school’s culture, classrooms, and extracurricular activities even before NEISD initiated efforts to further mix these diverse entities.

    The real story here is what really happened between the time of the decision to change the name and the time of the board vote on the new name. Also, there was clearly a problem with the process. Either it was not well planned in advance of the announcement of the intention to change the name; or the intention to essentially keep the same name was already a likely outcome.

  4. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Truly bizarre times that we live in. But at least the absurd result is good for a laugh.

  5. Total cave-in to “political correctness “.

    This teaches kids that we adults are too damn childish to handle our own history.

    When we scrub out the name of an important historical figure, in order to silence a very small and very vocal minority, we allow the tyranny of that minority to dictate our public discourse.

    This is a step in the wrong direction, for a host of reasons, including the simplest one of all.

    When we act as though an important and difficult chapter of our history did not happen, we insult our own innate intelligence, while we also increase the risk of repeating the horrors of the past.

    • Who is scrubbing out the name of an important historical figure? Was anyone at this meeting saying that we would redact any mention of Gen. Lee from the history textbooks used in NEISD? No.

      No one is denying that Lee was an important figure in American history. Obviously he was, but his legacy as the leader of an army that rebelled against the United States is not one that should be celebrated in public facilities.

      We increase the risk of repeating the horrors of the past when we allow symbols of oppression to remain standing as reminders of our divisions. No student is learning anything about the mistakes in our national history by entering their school building that bears the name of Gen. Lee or that flies the Stars and Bars. There is no civics lesson to be gained by singing “Dixie” at football games.

      My hope is that students in NEISD will see that the adults which you deem to be “childish” are actually attempting to take an honest stock of the entire history of our community to take one small step toward righting the wrongs that our ancestors perpetrated.

  6. The results are a compromise. A GOOD one!
    When the political climate swings again, and Robert E Lee in no longer seen as a “monster”, will the name change no longer be remembered? Rather than the past why not focus on what is monstrous today! Learn from the past and move on.
    I am totally perplexed why some people pick on this era? We have White Supremacist and the KKK alive and well today. Do something about that!
    Quit attacking history! There is far too much to wash away.

  7. I think it’s funny that a high school bearing the name of a US Civil War general was expediently resolved by means of compromise–in the true fashion of the events leading up to the civil war.

  8. I find it interesting that those elected and responsible for overseeing the Education of our children are the very ones trying to change history.Sad.

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