Renaming Lee

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COLUMBIA - The question of whether to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary, in part because of its Confederate roots, will be the task of a new group approved by the Columbia Public Schools' Board of Education Thursday.

Columbia residents who submitted their applications for possible membership were chosen randomly and presented to the board to approve.

"Individuals in the community were able to submit their names through an online application process, as well as if they handed in a hand-written application. So, all of those names were put into a drawing, and then we pulled for each of the categories," said CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark.

Those who applied for the committee had to say which of the category they wanted to represent as described below:

Number of Members
District administrators to serve as non-voting co-chairs
Dr. Jill Brown, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education
Ms. Carla London, Chief Equity Officer
Lee autonomous school board member
Selected by the autonomous school board
Lee parent (not a member of the autonomous school board)
Parents may submit names to the district administration and a drawing will be held
Lee partner in education
Official partners may submit names to the district administration and a drawing will be held
Lee staff member (not a member of the Autonomous School Board)
Faculty and staff may submit their name to the district administration and a drawing will be held
Former Lee student (must be high school age or older to participate)
Individuals may submit names to the district administration and a drawing will be held
Community members
Not-affiliated with Lee, living in the Columbia Public Schools District boundaries. One member will be selected from each of the four quadrants of the city (NE, NW, SE, SW).  A drawing will be held to select a representative from each quadrant.
At-large community members
Individuals residing within the school district boundaries may submit their name to the district administration and a drawing will be held

"We'll begin working through the process of establishing a committee meeting schedule," Baumstark said. "We're working through the process of opening it up to the community to begin submitting school names to be considered, and the committee will establish a process for how it will evaluate those names and ultimately provide a recommendation to the Board of Education."

The committee will provide recommendations of possible name changes for Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School, officially named Robert E. Lee Elementary School, to the board, which is the only organizational body that can approve a name change.  

Baumstark said, although the committee will provide the board recommendations, it could also recommend the name stay the same.

"It is fully possible that individuals could submit the existing name for the committee to consider, and the committee will have to establish a rubric for evaluating the names that are submitted," Baumstark said. 

Interested community members were allowed to give public comments for the possible name change.

One Columbia resident who applied for the committee urged the board to reconsider.

"It seems like Columbia Public Schools is getting away from what they're actual purpose is: to educate children," he said "This whole school renaming thing just seems to be an exercise in social equity or rewriting history."

Baumstark said any community members who have concerns should remember there are multiple reasons Lee Elementary is considering a name change.

"The Board of Education has very definitive policies when it comes to school buildings. There are certain caveats for when a name can be reconsidered. In this instance there are a couple options on the table, one being that the school building itself when it was originally named in 1904 has since changed its purpose."

Another reason Baumstark mentioned was renovations that the Lee Elementary school board has been considering. 

Baumstark says the names of the committee members are being withheld until each one has been officially contacted.