Some two weeks after a white supremacist rally to save Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue ended in bloodshed, San Antonio’s North East Independent School District voted unanimously to remove the Confederate general’s name from a high school. On Monday night the board instead chose a curious compromise, voting 5-2 to “rename” it LEE High School.
At least that’s the shorthand acronym for the new school, which trustees dubbed Legacy of Educational Excellence High School. To activists and trustees who for years have wanted to purge the 2,500-student school of its Confederate iconography, Monday’s decision rings hollow.
Whether the school’s mascot — the Volunteers, represented by a caricature of Robert E. Lee — a statue of the Confederate general on campus and the school colors will change remains to be seen. Those details will be decided by NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy and possibly other district officials in the next few months, a district spokesperson told the Observer.
Trustee Edd White, the board’s only black member — who was part of a failed push to change the school’s name in 2015 and voted against Monday’s revision — said the decision follows other district attempts to make the school’s Confederate name more “palatable,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. “I just think we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig if you’re gonna still have the acronym LEE,” White told the newspaper.
At first, the school’s name change appeared to be part of a great Confederate purging that followed August’s Unite the Right weekend in Charlottesville, during which torch-bearing white supremacists chanted neo-Nazi slogans. In Texas, statues of Confederate generals, cabinet members and soldiers quickly began to fall from their pedestals across the University of Texas at Austin Campus, as did statues in San Antonio and Dallas. Last month, House Speaker Joe Straus called for officials to remove a plaque at the Capitol mounted during the Civil Rights era that falsely states the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”
Monday’s vote might be a sign that change won’t come so easy, even in the state’s big cities. North East ISD Board President Shannon Grona insisted the new name was a cost-saving measure, since the school wouldn’t have to spend money on printing and painting — because, after all, it won’t really have a new name. The district, in a prepared statement, said trustees had effectively been forced into a “no-win situation” that “had become a disruption to the mission of educating students” and “a potential safety concern to students and staff.”
But Grona also said that with Monday’s compromise, “We can honor the legacy of the past.”
Digital editor Kolten Parker contributed to this report.