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The East Baton Rouge School Board is set to approve a long-awaited name change to majority-Black Lee High School, which bears the name of former Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in a virtual meeting Thursday night, July 16, 2020. Recommendations board members will consider are Louisiana Magnet High School, Liberty Magnet High School, and P.B.S. Pinchback Magnet High School.

Liberty High, fresh off controversy after changing its name so it’s no longer associated with a Confederate general, has a new controversy with racial overtones and its principal is now on paid leave as a result.

School leaders are investigating whether Principal Rob Howle violated school policy by sending a text message to a fellow school employee that suggested potential repercussions for football players who fail to stand for the national anthem. The national anthem has been a flashpoint nationwide since football player Colin Kaepernick kneeled during a 2016 playing of the anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

Howle is starting his third year as principal of Liberty High, formerly Lee High. Soon after taking over in 2018, Howle relaunched football, which the school had last played a decade earlier.

An image of Howle’s text message, dated Oct. 1, was posted on social media and came to the attention of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system on Thursday.

Taylor Gast, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the message appears to be real and that the recipient also works for the school system, but she would not identify that person.

The text, first reported by WBRZ-TV and which includes no names, is a short rant from Howle about football players who apparently failed to stand during a recent playing of the national anthem.

“That was embarrassing,” he wrote. “Playing football is a privilege not a right.”

The text goes to suggest the recipient of the email might want to make it mandatory to stand during the anthem “or this team will never get any more support from the administration.”

“If they don’t want to stand they can turn in their equipment and we will refund their money.”

Howle did not return a message from The Advocate seeking comment. The district issued a statement Thursday saying it launched an investigation and that, "… as a result, an administrator has been placed on administrative leave." Gast identified the administrator as Howle.

Also, the district said Thursday the school system respects students' rights to freedom of speech and expression and promotes responsible citizenship. In the statement, Gast points to a policy in the Student Handbook that allows for silent meditation during the Pledge of Allegiance, but also touches on the national anthem.

“Every assembly or meeting in each school should begin with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and with the playing or the singing of the National Anthem, and all students shall be encouraged to learn the words of the National Anthem,” according to the policy. “Throughout the playing (singing) of the National Anthem and/or the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, students shall be encouraged to exhibit respectful behavior.”

Liberty High was renamed from Lee High in July in the wake of protests across the country that targeted symbols of the Confederacy. Lee High opened in 1959 as Robert E. Lee High School, named after the Confederate general.

 


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.