In the third part of a series, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) reflects on the controversy in his city over renaming schools that bear the names of Confederate generals plus the president: Jefferson Davis Middle School, JEB Stuart Middle School, Kirby-Smith Middle School, Joseph Finnegan Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, and the big fish in the group, Robert E. Lee High School.
For the latest updates, you need to follow the city’s outstanding education reporter, Emily Bloch, of the Times-Union, who is following the unfolding events and keeping us informed.
At the epicenter of the controversy is a Lee teacher who was removed from her classroom this week pending the results of an internal investigation by our Professional Standards department. GOT refrains from opining on the reasons for the removal and speculating on the outcome of the investigation. He does not work at that school nor does he know anyone who works there.
The teacher refused to take down a BLM flag that she had hung above her hallway door despite the fact that the school district had clarified its expectations in mid-December about appearing to endorse social justice movements using its voice.
That is a matter of interpretation. Does everything a teacher posts in the classroom or in the hall imply that it is an official expression of district policy?
There is a history here. The teacher founded the Evac Movement, which started as a class in leadership that began talking after having a lesson about Plato’s cave and people watching the shadows on the wall not realizing the shadows came from the reality behind them. As the young black men talked, they realized that they had shared experiences, that their lives were much the same, and they formed a bond and a determination to demand better from a society that discounted their lives.
I AM NOT A GANG MEMBER. The Evac movement challenges our assumptions and what we think when we view a young black man. Those passing through the high school and participating in the movement have gone on to win admission to the most prestigious colleges, Harvard among them.
The Evac movement has won national and international awards. President Barrack Obama invited them to the White House. They have traveled to other countries and participated in conferences.
And yet, Jacksonville, in particular its school system, has always been uncomfortable with it.
The Bold New City of the South. Always, always, a better phrase describes it: A Tale of Two Cities. (One white, one black.)
If you don’t believe that, you will have a hard time understanding why impoverished, black neighborhoods still lack city water and sewer services 55 years after they were promised they would receive it. Only now, in 2021, is city leadership moving to fulfill the failed promises from the 1960’s consolidation of county and city governments.
The Evac movement represents student voice, what the school system always says is important until students use it in ways that the system does not like. The student voice is clear: RENAME OUR SCHOOL! (GOT emphasis.)
Things became so heated that the students planned a walkout and a demonstration until the school’s administration got wind of it and quashed it. This is March, not February, when students were allowed to stage walk-outs to call out the district for glossing over Black History month in favor of an emphasis on mental health.
The district listened then; it’s not listening now.