LIVE COVERAGE: Public comment about Robert E. Lee High School name at Tyler ISD board meeting

Published on Monday, 21 August 2017 19:24 - Written by

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Here's the latest from tonight's Tyler ISD board meeting, during which the board is expected to hear public comment on whether the name of Robert E. Lee High School should be changed.

9:08 p.m.: Last speaker isn't there so public comment is over. Board is taking a quick break before continuing on with action items on tonight's meeting agenda. 

9:06 p.m.: Speaker says I have two children that graduated from John Tyler and two grandchildren who attend TISD. "Change the name of Robert E. Lee. It is time. How long do you wait? The real question here is how does it affect the students -- the minority students -- in our school district? It affects them adversely." 

9:04 p.m.: That comment is followed by a speaker who says changing the name will send the wrong message to the community and the rest of the world. Let's get to the root of the problem, which is income inequality. That will quell racism in our community. Prosperous people have no time for hate. 

9:03 p.m.: Next speaker says no one is advocating erasing history but getting rid of a symbol of oppression. 

9:02 p.m.: Speaker who had three daughters graduate Lee says, "If you start taking down statutes and changing names we are acting like ISIS all over the world. You do not erase history. You keep history for everyone. There's good history, there's bad history. But you do not change history."

8:58 p.m.: Former Lee student says we have one of the most diverse school districts. No matter what the name, we should work with the students and tell them that they belong. The name of a school doesn't really matter. Actions mean a whole lot more. And we can make that commitment to the students without causing a tizzy and changing the name. 

8:56 p.m.: Retired Vietnam veteran equates it to a war on American history. Tyler city streets, a graveyard monument and more will be attacked next. This tyranny of the minority must be stopped now."

8:54 p.m.: Speaker says when she moved to Tyler she was so impressed with the history. "If you change the name of the school, who do you name it after? There's going to be someone that disagrees and objects. Robert E. Lee had so many wonderful qualities and the fact that he served as a Confederate general is just one aspect of his life... He's someone that the students definitely could look up to."

8:53 p.m.: Next speaker advises the board not to change the name. While we may not all agree on our perspectives of history, the truth is the truth. My hope and my prayer is that God keeps us united and keeps us a peaceful city and lets us continue to prosper for years to come. 

8:50 p.m.: Lee grad says, "We urge you to consider the impact for future generations and rename the high school," and reads off names of other grads who have signed letter in support of name change with him. 

8:46 p.m.: Wayne Jones, 33-year resident, opposes the name change. "Where does this stop? Where does this cultural cleansing stop? I'm here to encourage you. Let's concentrate on improving our schools. Let's concentrate on ... educating our children. Let's move ahead yes, but we don't have to change everything. We don't have to culturally change our country."

8:44 p.m.: Next speaker: A name change could open Tyler to new dreams. This is not about subtraction, but addition. It's time to move forward in a new way. Names have meaning, words have power. 

8:42 p.m.: As we all know, the healing of racial tensions in this country has been very slow. As a Christian I feel we should do all we can to heal. That's why I support the name change. His name is a reminder of the oppressive days of racial hatred. 

8:40 p.m.: Next speaker says he's not from Tyler but asks, Where does it stop?

8:37 p.m.: Woman says she and her son have three sons who went to Lee and they've been speaking with them about it. Their friends have been shocked when they tell them the name of their school. Speaks for her husband: Any emotional argument needs to be cast aside and do what is in the best interest of our children going forward. 

8:35 p.m.: I want our schools to be places of learning and not political chess pieces, which is why I agree with changing the name, says the next speaker.  

8:34 p.m.: Next speaker: I don't think changing the name of a high school is erasing history.  

8:33 p.m.: Hager tells the speaker she can deliver a copy of her thesis to the board, then tells the crowd they're halfway through public comments. "Thank you for hanging in there with us."  

8:31 p.m.: UT-Tyler grad says her senior thesis was the name of Robert E. Lee High School. It took the board three months to come up with the name. The board of education decided the students themselves would decide (fun fact: Elvis got a nod) but the last ballot resulted in the unanimous winner, Robert E. Lee. In honor of the students deciding, she says let the students decide. 

8:29 p.m.: Speaker: Racism is real and it is a systemic issue. I would urge us to look forward, not to the people we were but to the people we wish to be. I don't believe a name change will solve all of our problems but I think it's a pretty big start. 

8:25 p.m.: Home school mom speaks, saying she pays taxes in Tyler ISD. I want to be able to talk to my kids about reconciliation. It's about 50/50 what people think here. That tells you we're not reconciled. 

8:24 p.m.: Board President Hager says we're about halfway through and commends the audience for their decorum. Also urges them to address the board and not the audience behind them. 

8:22 p.m.: Speaker who has relatives who have attended John Tyler High School: I urge you to change the name. Take a walk in someone else's shoes who has been there who it offended and then you'll understand why it's important to change the name of the school. 

8:20 p.m.: "We're in a very dangerous time in this country. I ask you not to do it, not to change history." Says we'll have to change several other schools' names in town as well as streets. 

8:18 p.m.: Next speaker wants to create a community of tenderness. "For the sake of our children for the sake of our future let's rename the school so we can begin the process of racial healing and reconciliation. We haven't done that yet but we have the opportunity and it rests with you and on your shoulders and I hope you do the right thing." 

8:16 p.m.: Former Lee graduate, "It bothers me people are still arguing race. I don't have a problem with it... God has a reason for allowing things to happen. We may never understand his wisdom but we simply have to trust his will. Have you even thought of the millions of dollars it's going to cost to change everything. If you change Robert E. Lee you have to change John Tyler. If you change John Tyler you have to change Tyler. Please consider history is something that happens and you have to live with it."

8:14 p.m.: Speaker: The question becomes why does it become important to keep his name. ... He has now become a symbol of oppression to a certain portion of our population and we have to recognize that. Let's make a decision in changing the name to move forward. We have a great opportunity here. I would ask that we talk to our neighbors and learn from this. 

8:12 p.m.: Next speaker: When will it end? When will enough be enough? History is what it is. The good the bad and th ugly. Instead of trying to symbolically change or even erase it we should do everything we can to avoid repeating the bad. My hope is we'll rise above it and set an example that others will follow. 

8:10 p.m.: Former graduate says to change the name. When I go to my class reunions now I wince when I see those symbols on napkins, invitations, etc. "We remain saddled with the ghost of a past that haunts us still."

8:08 p.m.: Speaker up next urges the board to keep the name, saying Lee stands for duty, valor and sacrifice. Says the name change is being brought about by outside groups who are agitating this community. 

8:06: "This is a great opportunity. I urge you to take this opportunity to rename the schools, especially Robert E. Lee and possibly John Tyler as well."

8:04 p.m.: Next person at the mic says this might be the perfect storm and the opportunity to change the name. "Doing the popular thing isn't always right. And doing the right thing isn't always popular," he says. 

8:02 p.m.: "If we're going to change Robert E. Lee, let's change them both," says next speaker. She also points out Robert E. Lee freed his slaves and John Tyler kept his slaves until the day he died.

8 p.m.: This is driven by a liberal agenda, the next speaker says. And this is just a start. Says he deplores racism.  

7:58 p.m.: Next speaker says that to say that Robert E. Lee was a racist is a mistake. Said he had an illustrious career. "In my opinion he's an honorable man and the name should stay." Points out that John Tyler owned slaves. 

7:56 p.m.: Next speaker says both of our high schools are named after leaders of the Confederacy. It is now time to remove itself from the vestiges of the Confederacy. Suggests Sandy Duncan, Kevin Eltife, Earl Campbell, Willie Lee Glass, among others, as potential names. 

7:54 p.m.: Next speaker says she and her two children attended Lee. When she thinks of Robert E. Lee what she thinks of are the memories. Quotes Condoleeza Rice: I'm a firm believer in keeping your history before you. ... She also went on to say sanitizing history to make you feel better is a bad thing. 

7:53: Next speaker says if we change the name of Robert E. Lee we have to change the name of John Tyler High School. Says he's sick this is happening in the city he loves. 

7:50 p.m. Ron Gleason speaks next. I believe that every one of us would benefit from listening more closely to our neighbors, he says. "Changing the name of Robert E. Lee wont' change history because history resides in books and documentaries and to a lesser extent popular culture. ... Who or what we honor (with buildings) is a message to the future."

7:48: First speaker is local attorney Nic Pesina. "There is never a wrong time to do the right thing."

It's time to take a step that is almost 60 years in the making, Pesina says, adding that changing the name of Robert E. Lee high school is long overdue. We have the opportunity to do that with a new school and a new name, Pesina says. 

7:47 p.m. Hager says we've seen lots of examples of communities who have dealt with this poorly. Says his hope and prayer is that this audience can discuss it in a respectful way that builds up the community instead of tearing it apart. 

7:45 p.m.: Hager says he will allocate 2 minutes per speaker

7:43 p.m.: Board President Fritz Hager tells the audience they have reached "the part you have all been waiting for." Then reads the rules that govern public comment portion of the meeting, including the fact that board members cannot respond to comments. 

7:42 p.m.: Board approves the 2017-2018 tax rate as presented, with Superintendent Marty Crawford noting this includes the bond issue that passed in May.

7:41 p.m.: Board approves the 2017-2018 budgets as presented.

7:36 p.m.: Public hearing on the budget begins. Audience member asks a question about the free and reduced lunch program in relation to the budget.

7:34 p.m.: On to special recognitions for the district for financial achievement

7:32 p.m.: Hanson concludes her portion by telling the group, "It's a team effort," followed by applause from the crowd. 

7:19 p.m. Audience applauds improvements in student achievements as detailed by Hanson.

7:12 p.m.: Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Christy Hanson is updating the board on student accountability.

7:07 p.m.: Board approves routine agenda items and the minutes.

7:04 p.m.: Board member Aaron Martinez says the prayer and leads the Pledge of Allegiance.

7:02 p.m.: Board members have taken their seats. Meeting called to order.

6:54 p.m.: 42 people are signed up to speak.

6:52 p.m.: Almost every seat appears to be occupied.

6:49 p.m.: The Tyler Paper is live streaming the meeting on its Facebook page for those who can't be at the meeting.

6:42 p.m.: 27 people have signed up to speak.

6:37 p.m. Seats in the conference room are filling up, appearing about 3/4 full. The room seats 200 and has an capacity of 514.

6:26 p.m.: The district has a lot of security on hand for the board meeting. Up to 15 people signed up to speak so far.

6:10 p.m.: The Tyler ISD Board of Trustees meeting won't begin until 7 p.m., but residents already are signing up to address the board at tonight's meeting.

The Tyler Independent School District was prepared for a large turnout at its August meeting as residents planned to use the public speaking portion of the meeting to argue in favor of or against changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School.

The agenda for the meeting does not include any action on the discussion.

The board sets agenda items, but residents may speak during the public comment section of the meeting. Residents wishing to speak should sign up at least ten minutes prior to the meeting.

A change.org petition to keep the name had gathered about 9,300 signatures as of 5 p.m. on Monday. A petition to change the name had been signed about 350 times.