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As Debate Over Rober E. Lee High School Continues, Midland ISD Forms Committee To Rename It

By Mitch Borden

Midland Independent School District’s board of trustees Thursday night moved forward with the criteria for renaming Robert E. Lee High School and appointed several representatives to the panel charged with the task.

The move comes after the school board voted in late July to change the name of the controversial school, but what that change will look like is unclear.

Over the past two months, an online petition has garnered over 10,000 signatures to completely change the 59-year-old school’s name, but now an opposition group is moving to preserve what some call the Midland Lee “brand.” 

Their proposed solution: drop the “Robert E.” from the school’s name, but keep “Lee.” During, Thursday’s special meeting the school board heard from some members of the public who told the trustees they never connected Midland Lee or the Lee Rebels to the Confederate general who fought to preserve slavery in the civil war.

“We never referred to it as Robert E. Lee, just simply Lee,” Andrea Chavez, the mother of a student attending the school’s freshman campus this fall. “I understand the importance of negative stigma the “Robert E.” brings, and I agree it needs to be [removed], however the “Lee” brings so much more.” 

The origin of the school’s name has caused tension in Midland for years. Robert E. Lee High School opened up in 1961 in the middle of the civil rights movement, years before Midland desegregated its schools. For Lee High alumni Courtney Ratliff, who’s leading the current campaign to change the school name, the history surrounding Lee High is problematic and painful. 

“The only way to completely heal this wound is with a brand new name,” according to Ratliff. He’s also not convinced by the argument that the name "Lee" can be separated from the racist history of Robert E. Lee.

School board officials say they would be open to keeping the name "Lee" if it were referring to a different historical figure with that name, or if it were an acronym.

The district has appointed 23 people to the committee and their goal is to come up with at least one alternative name for Lee High School and its freshman campus by October. These proposals will also consider new colors, mascots and nicknames for the school. 

Midland ISD’s board of trustees required all of those appointed to the committee to have a connection to the school. So the members of the panel range from alumni, current students, district staff and parents of students. 

The renaming committee is also accepting suggestions from the community on new names for Lee High. The criteria the district has set out for the new name is that it must be a: 

  • Presidents, statespersons, and persons of national fame
  • Governors, statespersons, and persons of Texas fame
  • National, state and local educators
  • Community and civic leaders
  • National, state and local symbols or events
Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.