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Petition to change Robert E. Lee High School's name gains thousands of signatures

The petition on Change.org had nearly 4,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. The creator said it needs 75% of students, alumni or community members' signatures.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A push to change the name of one of Jacksonville's high schools is gaining traction in an online petition in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and the nationwide conversation about racial inequality.

Robert E. Lee High School on McDuff Avenue in Jacksonville bears the name of a Confederate commander from the Civil War. The petition on Change.org says "Just 50 years ago, until 1970, African Americans weren't even allowed to attend Robert E. Lee. Integrating the school was a step forward in 1970. Yet, the recent murders of innocent civilians has set America back 50 years."

According to the petition, 70% of the students who attend Robert E. Lee High School are African American, which the petition description says causes a "social stigma that haunts Jacksonville as it is a constant reminder of the racism and hate that exists today." 

The petition explains that the final decision to change the name of the school is ultimately the decision of the Duval County School Board, but in order to submit a written request to the school board, a certain number of signatures is required:

  • 75% of the school's current students.
  • A number of alumni equal to 75% of the school's current student population, including the alumnus's graduation year in the online comments of the petition.
  • Community members who live in the school's attendance zone, equal to 75% of the schools's current population, including their ZIP code in the online comments of the petition.

"The students of Jacksonville deserve to go to a school they're proud of going to, named after a man whose legacy positively impacts people of color," the petition says, "not a monster who didn't even want to see them as free men and women. America needs to see positive viral news for the first time in 2020. America needs to see this High School be renamed after a historical African American man."

The petition says 75% of the school's population would equal 1,500 signatures, and once the required number of signatures is collected, a written request will be sent to the school board for consideration.

First Coast News reached out to Duval County Public Schools for comment on the petition. DCPS sent a statement that read in part, "... the district is very aware of and sensitive to the national discourse taking place around this issue.

The School Board’s policy is an inclusive policy that provides multiple avenues to initiate the process for changing a school name. Given this unique moment in our nation’s history, we are glad to hear the voices of our constituents as we consider the best way forward for all the students we serve."

The district also sent a document outlining the process and procedures related to renaming an existing school and said if any changes occur, they would let First Coast News know.

I. The School Board will name or rename schools. Community input is desired and highly valued; however, the School Board has final authority over the name of any school. A. The Superintendent (or his designee) shall initiate the naming of a new school.

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