Majority of speakers support renaming Davis, Lee schools

Forty-five people spoke to support renaming Davis Middle School and the Campus at Lee in Hampton at a public hearing Thursday night, with six offering remarks in support of leaving them as is.

The hearing is one of two being held by the School Board to solicit input about renaming the schools, which are named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, who were Confederate leaders in the Civil War.

The Hampton Branch of the NAACP and the Peninsula chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference requested that the schools be renamed, after white nationalists and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, which ignited a national conversation about Confederate monuments.

The speakers were diverse in both race and age, with a group of nine Hampton University students making up a majority of those in favor. Several were teachers in Newport News and Hampton.

Many speakers for the renaming recited the board’s policy as it relates to the names of elementary and middle schools, which states they “will be named in honor of persons who have rendered outstanding service to mankind in their community, state and/or country.”

“When you all were sworn in, when you were voted in by the same people in this audience, you took an oath, for every child, every day, whatever it takes.” said Ja’Rae Bolton, a senior at HU and product of Hampton City Schools who served as the student liaison to the School Board in 2013-14. “That means that you have to make the uncomfortable decisions that show the students that are coming up under your leadership that you care. At a time where our country is at a loss for leadership, this is your chance to stand up and take a stand in your community.”

Robert Doggett, a Hampton resident, was one of the six who spoke about keeping the names. He and others said efforts should be spent in improving the academic outcomes of schools rather than the names.

“Does anyone really think that changing the names of these two schools will improve the quality of education inside?” Doggett asked to which a majority of the crowd responded with “yes” and nods.

Last March, two public hearings were held on the same matter after the SCLC made a request to consider changing the names of the schools. Between the two hearings, 10 were in favor of renaming the schools, and 31 spoke against it. The board then unanimously voted against renaming the schools.

Before speakers began Thursday, Chairman Jason Samuels said that the cost estimate to rename Davis and Lee is between $20,000 and $30,000, and could be less depending on the cost to replace marquee signs.

School Board policy lays out how a school can be renamed, which says that the board can create a committee to "review submissions and make a recommendation to the Board." The board can rename a school "upon a determination that it is appropriate to do so." The public hearings are not required under the policy.

The second hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at Hampton High School.

Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951 or on Twitter @byjanehammond.

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