Parents, Alumni Sue HISD Over Renaming Schools Honoring Confederacy

Houston Independent School District board members decided earlier this year that having several schools named after Confederate officials wasn't necessarily reflective of the district's “values and diversity,” as HISD described in its announcement.

But changing the names of eight schools with Confederate namesakes didn't go as swimmingly as the board may have planned — and not because opponents of the name changes are members of Texas's Sons of Confederate Veterans, either. (At least not that we've heard.)

A group of eight alumni, parents and community members on Thursday morning sued the district, saying its decision is financially imprudent. The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Daniel Goforth, argue the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the identity overhauls should instead be used to benefit students in the classroom.

The lawsuit comes after the group gave HISD an ultimatum on Tuesday: Halt the name changes or we'll take you to court — which was the second time HISD was threatened with legal action over this. When HISD didn't concede, the group followed through on its promise.

Their suit, filed in Harris County, seeks an injunction to block HISD from using public funds to rename the schools and also seeks to protect the schools as monuments, Wayne Dolcefino, the plaintiffs' spokesman, said. The suit claims HISD violated open meetings laws when deliberating and voting on the changes. Schools affected include Robert E. Lee High School (to become Margaret Long Wisdom High School), Stonewall Jackson Middle School (to become Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence) and John H. Reagan High School (to become Heights High School), among others. Sidney Lanier Middle School wouldn't even need many changes: It would become Bob Lanier, named for the former Houston mayor.

Still, parents aren't happy.

“It is a sad day when taxpayers and parents have to file a lawsuit to make the school district honor their duty as public servants," Dolcefino said. "HISD will now waste more taxpayer money to defend their arrogance.”

HISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said that the district estimates the changes will cost no more than $2 million — money that will be spent on things like new signage, band uniforms and sports jerseys.

But that's $2 million too much in the eyes of some parents whose kids will have access to fewer resources thanks to large budget cuts the district just approved this month. Facing a $95 million shortfall, the board decided to cut its teacher bonus program and also squash remaining portions of its longstanding tutoring program, Apollo. Overall, the district will spend $179 less per student.

So even in the name of diversity, perhaps buying a lot of new signs and sports jerseys is bad timing, for now.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn