The debate over schools named after Confederate generals has come to Denton ISD's doorstep.
Two speakers asked the Denton school board during its Tuesday night meeting to consider changing the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, located in east Denton.
Alison Maguire-Powell, an assistant band director at Myers Middle School, addressed the board during public comment and said having a school named after the Confederate general could convey the wrong message about Denton ISD.
"We need to ask ourselves: If we continue to have a school named after Robert E. Lee in our district, are we communicating to parents and students in the community that we value diversity? Are we communicating respect to all of our stakeholders?" she said. "This board has demonstrated a penchant for using the names of schools to honor educators and community leaders for their work, and renaming Lee could serve as an additional opportunity to recognize those who are serving this community."
Alfredo Sanchez, a former Denton school board candidate and a local property investor, suggested that the board name a school for Alice Alexander during public comment. Alexander taught in Denton ISD for 45 years and was the daughter of Fred Moore, a civic leader and the city's first African American principal. Alexander died in 2007 at age 100.
"All of the people I've talked to about Ms. Alexander say she was a caring teacher," Sanchez said. "I don't understand why there's not a school named after her. I've talked to several people in the black community and they said they've petitioned for getting a school named after her. It still hasn't happened."
Schools named after Confederate soldiers and officials have been a point of contention in several communities in Texas. Dallas ISD unanimously passed a resolution to consider renaming four schools named after Confederate officers by February. San Antonio's North East ISD recently changed the name of Robert E. Lee High School to Legacy of Educational Excellence (LEE) High School.
Lee Elementary is currently the only Denton ISD school named after a Confederate soldier, but that wasn't always the case. At one point, there were three.
The first public school in Denton opened as Denton High School in 1884 on South Locust Street where the First United Methodist Church currently sits. The school burned down in 1908, but was rebuilt on the same site.
In 1909, Maggie Yancey, a former Denton teacher and a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy, asked the school's trustees to name all the city's campuses (there were three at the time) after "distinguished men of the South."
Her request was granted and the trustees named the school on Locust Street after Robert E. Lee. The north campus, located where the Denton ISD Central Services building is now, was named after Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
The west campus, where the University of North Texas Union parking garage sits, was named after Sam Houston, who was the first president of the Republic of Texas. He served as governor of the state until he was deposed over his opposition to the Confederacy.
In 1950, Denton resident Lester Davis donated his land to the school district. At the time, the school board's policy stated that schools could only be named after someone who was deceased. Because the policy kept them from naming the school after the donor of the land, school board members named the campus after the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.
By 1974, Lee Elementary had moved to its current location on Mack Place and retained its name. Jackson Elementary was demolished in 1986 to make way for the new administration building. The Davis School was renovated and reopened as an alternative school in 2004 with the name Lester Davis.
Right now, a little more than half (50.8 percent) of the Lee Elementary student population is considered Hispanic by state data. Nearly a tenth (9.4 percent) are African-American while a third (34.7 percent) are white.
Denton school board President Mia Price said residents are welcome to submit name suggestions for any district facility year-round and that Alice Alexander's name has been submitted multiple times.
"This is on our radar," Price said of Lee Elementary. "It's something we will continue to discuss and potentially address."
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.