TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Tyler ISD Board of Trustees President Wade Washmon announced Sunday that the board will hold a special meeting later this week to vote on whether to change the names of both of the city’s high schools.
Washmon said the process would be guided by fairness and objectivity and with an eye toward improving the spirit of unity in the Tyler community.
“The names of our high schools, gifted to us by prior generations, have been the source of debate and much consternation in our beloved community,” Washmon said. “And, candidly, have become an increasingly bigger stumbling block to our focus as a school district on successful student outcomes and our efforts toward unity in our community.”
Board trustees Artis Newsome and Andy Bergfeld also were at the press conference, though they did not speak.
The issue of the schools’ names, particularly that of Robert E. Lee High School, has become increasingly contentious in Tyler. Student groups and athletes have begun refusing to display the school’s name on uniforms, and those opposed to changing the name have made appeals to “heritage” and “history.”
Board meetings have become scenes of protest and argument as those on opposing sides of the issue voice their opinions.
All of that has now come to head, Washmon intimated during his five-minute press conference.
“With much prayer and consideration,” he said, “it is my intention to address this head-on with a board that is courageous enough to take action and with the support of numerous local leaders and legends.”
The meeting will be held Thursday evening at 6 p.m., “and board members will have the chance to share their thoughts on this issue at that time,” Washmon said.
The public is invited to attend and provide comments, though speakers must sign in before the meeting.
To protect against the spread of COVID-19, those attending must also wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. All participants will be screened beforehand, including temperature checks. Speakers will be allowed in one at a time.
Washmon said objectivity “must permeate out thought processes and decisions as a school board.”
With objectivity in mind, he said, the board must consider changing the names of both high schools.
“Although Robert E. Lee High School has sparked the debate and garnered much attention,” Washmon said, “if we apply the same set of criteria used to justify the consideration of changing it, we must objectively apply that same criteria to John Tyler, who never contributed or served at the local level, but did contribute and serve in the congress of the Confederacy, whose troops were commanded by Robert E. Lee. If we consider one, we must objective consider both.”
“Let me very clear to my community on this issue. The decision to address both high schools have everything to do with objectivity and unity, which is why I’m requesting a vote on both schools at the same time. Should a vote to change the names occur, we will then address the process of renaming.”Wade Washmon, Tyler ISD Board of Trustees President
He said board members have consulted with members of the community during the process leading up to the decision to hold a special board meeting. Among those consulted, he said, were NFL legend and John Tyler graduate Earl Campbell and Kevin Eltife, former Tyler mayor, former state senator, chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, and Robert E. Lee graduate.
“It’s my hope that we can move forward through and from this issue in unison with a poised and rational demeanor so we can turn our focus back to successful student outcomes,” Washmon said.