The name of Lee High School in Baton Rouge is once again sparking controversy and an African American member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board announced Tuesday he’s going to try again to rename the school.
“NONE of our students should feel intimidated, insulted or unwelcomed at any of our sites simply because we choose not to recognize family pain and generational trauma,” School Board member Dadrius Lanus said in a letter Tuesday to his fellow board members.
After a lengthy and rancorous debate in June 2016, the School Board voted 5-4 along racial lines to keep the school’s name Lee High School. The board did, however, remove the “Robert E” part of the name which had been there since the school opened in 1959.
In his letter, Lanus, who joined the board in 2019, said that doesn’t go for enough. Having a prominent magnet school like Lee High named after an “infamous slave owner and Confederate general is no longer an acceptable reality among those who seek racial harmony in this community,” Lanus said.
Alluding to the ongoing protests across the country over mistreatment of African Americans by the police, Lanus said it’s time to end a longstanding wrong and give Lee High a new name.
Splitting along racial lines, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday changed the name of Robert E. Lee High School in Baton Roug…
“The reality of today makes this current state of affairs prime for social change,” Lanus wrote.
Six of the nine board members who voted on the name of Lee High in 2016 are still on the board. Of the three newer members, Lanus and board Vice President Tramelle Howard are black, while Board President Mike Gaudet is white. Lee High is within the boundaries of Gaudet’s District 7.
The school system’s “naming of facilities” policy gives the superintendent the discretion to decide whether to start the process. If the superintendent agrees, then a special committee is formed to come up with three recommended replacement names. The board can accept one of those names or pick one it prefers.
Superintendent Warren Drake is retiring June 30. The board has scheduled a vote June 18 to pick his replacement.
In 2016, parents at the school asked for a modest change to the school’s name. They just wanted to add the word “Magnet” to make it “Lee Magnet High School,” similar to Baton Rouge Magnet High.
The high school then was nearing the completion of a $54.7 million demolition and reconstruction. Several board members balked at adding “Magnet,” saying it would cost $250,000 to replace the school’s large name plate on its new Commons Building.
Several black leaders in town, however, urged the board to go further and made an unsuccessful push to drop any mention of Lee in the school’s name.
Gary Chambers, publisher of The Rouge Collection and one of the more outspoken voices in favor of changing the name of Lee High, on Saturday revived his call to find a new name for the school. He also is pressing again to rename several streets near the high school in the Southdowns Subdivision, including Lee Drive, named after Confederate generals.