So You Want to Change the Name of Your Local School Because It’s Offensive?

Here’s an idea of how to go about it.

Here in Okie City, as I’m sure is true in other locations in America, folks are making noises about changing the names of some of our public schools, akin to removing statues elsewhere.  OKC School Superintendent, Aurora Lora, is open to giving this consideration and in the right way:  “As a first step, OKCPS is committed to working closely with community historians to ensure we have a full understanding of the current heritage of our schools,” said Supt. Aurora Lora. “I am not interested in forcing a new name on any community that does not feel it is necessary. Rather, I hope to use this opportunity to share information on the current namesakes and then help find funding for those schools where the community feels a name change is needed.http://www.koco.com/article/okcps-to-discuss-possible-name-changes-for-schools-named-after-confederate-leaders/12019294’  The issue is to come up before the school board on September 5th.

We have four elementary schools named for Confederate generals: Lee, Jackson, Wheeler and Stand Watie (more on him later). On a personal level, I am all for leaving statues, monuments and the like in the public view as a testament to our national history. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a reminder of our past misdeeds front and center so they cannot be forgotten or repeated. I see no sense in hiding them in a museum where too few will actually see them.

As for changing the names of public schools, I don’t have a problem with that, as long as those who want the change agree to take on the financial burden. It has been estimated the cost would be $50,000 to $75,000 per school. If the PTA and the community at large want to raise the money themselves, I say go for it. It will be a big job calling for a huge commitment, probably starting with a petition to the school board with a requisite number of signatures, a new name to present at that time and an estimate of how long it would take to complete. There would need to be a clear understanding of what the name change will affect, i.e. signage (some of these schools have the name carved into stones or bricks), perhaps a gym floor, letterhead, and a whole lot of stuff I haven’t even thought of. I think the monetary cost would be much higher than the estimate above, but that’s because this kind of thing always runs over the estimated cost.

Other than charter and enterprise schools, our public schools in Oklahoma are dismal academically and financially in every way and failing fast. This is why OKCPS cannot and absolutely should not take on the funding of these name changes, there’s just no money.  I hope Superintendent Lora would agree that requiring the task to be fully funded by those who want the change could also result in a new sense of community pride. Perhaps this could even bring about the realization of how transformative parent and community involvement in local schools can be. Truth be told, Oklahoma City has a record of getting the public on board to effect change and to even spend their own hard-earned money to do so (google Oklahoma City MAPS projects – we voted a 1 cent sales tax to fund all projects. MAPS for Kids, along with a bond issue, resulted in 70 new or renovated public school facilities among other ventures). It will just depend on how many want the name changes and how hard they are willing to work for it. If it would be at all possible, I believe the funding should be restricted to local sources only – think bake sales, car washes, “junk” sales, and community business contributions. If money can be raised  locally to fund band trips overseas or trips to scholastic competitions in other states, then it should work for this purpose as well.

As for Stand Watie, this one could potentially prove to be controversial. Watie, 3/4 Cherokee, was also a general in the Confederate army and a signatory on the Treaty of New Echota, which forfeited the Cherokee Nation lands in Georgia for the new Cherokee Nation lands in Oklahoma. By doing so, he virtually signed his own death warrant. http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WA040, It’s possible there could a unanimous position to have Watie’s name removed and replaced, or a group who wants it removed and another  who wants it to remain as is. I honestly have no idea how this would play out as I won’t  pretend to know the Native Oklahomans’ view of General Watie.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks and months. The whole thing could be a bust or it may show the way for communities in other cities to handle the situation in a reasoned manner.

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