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Oklahoma City schools consider name change following controversy

Nearly a month after violence broke out in Charlottesville, VA., America is still reeling. The removal of Confederate monuments began conversations about the symbolism these names and figures still hold. Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) district officials announced in August possible name changes for four elementary schools.

Lee, Jackson Enterprise, Stand Watie and Wheeler elementary schools were named after Confederate generals, according to the Oklahoma City school board. In a statement posted on the OKCPS website, Superintendent Aurora Lora said the proposal generated from board member interest.

“I am not interested in forcing a new name on any community which does not feel it necessary,” Lora said. “OKCPS is committed to working closely with community historians to ensure we have a full understanding of the current heritage of our schools.”

In an OKCPS announcement, school board officials stated their lack of tolerance for hate and discrimination and renewed their commitment to providing an environment where students feel safe, recognizing the names of the facilities are not names which reflect values held in 2017.

Oklahoma Christian University senior education major Abigail Giddens said she agrees with the name change proposition.

“As a teacher, sooner or later kids are going to ask who your school is named after,” Giddens said. “If the school is named after a confederate leader, it would be a very awkward conversation.”

In a statement posted on their website, Oklahoma City district leaders said the current situation coincides with the OKCPS board policy on Naming New Facilities and is worth the board’s consideration. However, the expense to change the name of a facility could be $50,000-$75,000, which board members said could lead to significant budget issues for the schools.

Cheyenne Bennett, an early childhood education major, voiced her concerns with the cost of the name change fitting into the education budget.
“With all the racial tension, I understand wanting to change the name,” Bennett said. “I am from Oklahoma and have a passion for kids here. Where could that money be used to better students’ lives? Some of them need much more than a name change: food to take home, books, school supplies and even clothes.”

Allison Cassady, associate professor of education at Oklahoma Christian, attended Robert E. Lee High School in Texas.

“I was a proud, third generation, high school student,” Cassady said. “The name was not synonymous with the confederate general in my mind, but rather with the history of my family and the school. The people in the school took care of us by giving us what we needed—an education.”

According to News OK, the proposal lacks support. Principals from three of the Oklahoma schools said parents are not supporting the name change.

“I’ve had very few parents come and give me their opinion,” Theresa Manzendo, principal of Stand Watie Elementary, said. “They just know this is their elementary school and they care very much about their school.”

With respect to the nation’s history and racial divisions, Cassady said she understands the desire to change the names. However, she cannot support it at the detriment to students.

“In education in the state of Oklahoma, our funds are suffering,” Cassady said. “Students and teachers need to be taken care of first. If you can call the school something new without taking away funds, do it. I believe in respecting people and the best way to respect a student, it to give them an education.”

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