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Denton school board reaffirms vote to rename Lee Elementary for Alice Alexander

For the first time in recent memory, Denton ISD had so many public speakers at a school board meeting that a second open forum had to be held.

Typically, only one or two people address board members during the public comment portion of the meeting. But on Tuesday night, 10 people chose to speak, with the majority commenting on a controversial decision made at the previous board meeting.

The school board came out of closed session at its November meeting and voted unanimously to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School for Alice Alexander, an African-American educator who taught in Denton for 45 years. She died in 2007 at age 100.

There was no specific agenda item that referenced any renaming of a school facility, which led to some accusations from community members and attorneys that the school board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Board members decided to reaffirm their action at the December meeting and again voted unanimously on the change, this time under an agenda item titled "Consider approval of naming of district facilities."

"Even though I did not know Mrs. Alexander, I would think she would want us to take this as a learning experience," board President Mia Price said. "We'll never be above learning anything. If we can benefit from this experience and celebrate Mrs. Alexander, we'll do what we feel like is the right thing to do because transparency has always been important to this board."

The board also reviewed its current policy for naming school facilities. Individuals are allowed to submit names online or in person at the district offices for any new, proposed or existing buildings. Those names then go into a name bank and the board discusses the names in closed session. The board will then return to open session and vote on the name.

Several residents spoke in favor of the name change and thanked the board for solidifying its action.

"My suggestion is to fix whatever you have to do and take care of what should've been done, and let's move on with that school named after someone I think kids should pattern themselves after now and in the future," resident Willie Hudspeth said.

Others believed Alexander should have her name affixed to a new school rather than an existing one like Lee.

"[Alice Alexander] seems like a great woman who should have a school named after her, but I don't think we should take our history and put it in the dustbin to do so," resident Bill Keith said. "The tidal wave of trying to erase our history is wrong."

Those who knew Alexander said she would have been thrilled with the board's decision.

"For her to be honored for something she absolutely loved, we're just grateful," said Zelinda Pegram, Alexander's daughter. "If she were here, she would just be smiling and maybe even dancing."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.