Lanier teacher says name change is ‘frivolous'

Austin ISD is moving forward renaming Eastside Memorial at Johnston, John. H Reagan High, Sidney Lanier High, Zachary T. Fulmore Middle School and, the Allan Facility. 

“I'm speaking as a citizen, as an individual in this community. This is an opportunity for communities if they believe in the names, it's an opportunity for them to name their school after people that motivate and inspire them locally,” said Ken Zarifis, parent, on Monday.

The five men named were at some point in time associated with the Confederacy, something that many said offends them.

“These schools and other institutions and statues were raised up in opposition to the progress of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Laura May, a Lanier High School teacher.

According to district documents the cost to change the names of the schools is $77,000 each plus, the cost of changing uniforms. Lanier teacher Medina Willis thinks spending on name changes if frivolous.

“There are so many more things that would really be beneficial to these students right now, than going back and trying to say we are going to correct the inequities of the past. Thank you for wanting to do that but let's focus on the inequities that are happening right here right now,” said Willis.

Willis says her students are dealing with unacceptable conditions, like bats in their gym.
“There are two bathroom (toilets) in the entire school for the boys, that actually have stalls,” said Willis.

Others at Monday's meeting brought up similar ideas, saying name changing is a waste of money, and questioning the motives behind naming the schools.

“Fulmore is named after a young man who was 17 when he was drafted in the military and he only served eight months before he was captured by the union. Six of those eight months he served in the hospital. So for 2 months service, a 17-year-old, a minor today, and they're saying that's why the school was named after him? “said Thomas Randall, who opposes the name changes, Monday.

Trustee Ann Teich who voted no, brought up financial concerns.

“What's the plan to pay? I haven't heard a plan yet,” said Teich.

After the 7-2 vote, the issue seemed to bring some disagreements on the dais among trustees Teich and board president Kendall Pace. 

Inside her classroom, Willis says she still is hearing sighs of sadness from her students. But she is hopeful that the district will address what's important to her, and that's fixing Lanier's facilities, not worrying about the name.

“Starting at 5 this morning I started getting messages from my students saying ‘hey we lost, why aren't they listening,’” said Willis.