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Duval County School board votes to change name of Forrest High School

10:36 PM, Dec 16, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Duval County School Board unanimously voted to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School Monday. Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wants the students to decide on a new name, which could go up for a vote during the January meeting.

The new name will officially change in July 2014.

The change has been decades in the making. 

RELATED: Petition challenges school named after KKK leader

A previous attempt to change the school's name was struck down by the school board in 2007. Superintendent Vitti says signage along with uniform changes will cost an estimated $400,000. He plans to ask the board if they're comfortable with collection donations from community members. Regarding marque and the school name outside of the building, Vitti says that will come out of district capital dollars.

Following an order by the federal district court Forrest High became integrated back in 1971. Fast-forward decades later, the school now has a majority of African American students, about 61 percent. 

Its name-sake, Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate General in the Civil War, he was also the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

"He should be relinquished to history," said a community member at Monday night's special meting. "To fade away out of the memory of man forever." 

Another person stood up at the podium saying the money that will be spent to change the schools name should go to better use.

"Rregardless of who the person was, or who the school is named after it was in the past. It's done and we need to move on."

Moving on proved to be difficult for the majority of students who, according to a survey conducted by the superintendent and his team, support a name change.

Of the 1,035 students who responded, 64 percent wanted a change, 36 percent were against it. 

There were 93 community respondents, 75 percent wanted the name to remain the same.

"My vote tonight does not reflect judgment of a man," said School Board Member, Ashley Smith Juarez. "I am not called to judge. My vote tonight honors the voice of students."

Omotayo Richmond, started a petition on the website Change.org, where he collected more than 160,000 signatures from people wanting a new name.

He believes the boards decision is a win for everyone.

"I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to smash some old paradigm of hate and racism here in Jacksonville," said Richmond. "This city is too beautiful for that blemish to be on it."

Superintendent Vitti says students and stakeholders will be polled next week, to decide on a new mascot and name. Those recommendations will be brought to the board on January 7.
So far students have proposed the names "Westside High School" and "Firestone High."

RELATED: Nathan B. Forrest name change to be discussed at town hall meeting

"It is clear that the Nathan B. Forrest name represents disparate views that have led to a cloud of divisiveness that we have had an opportunity to address and remove today," said Dr. Vitti. "I am convinced that my recommendation and the board's decision will move Jacksonville and the school district forward and allow us to focus on what matters most - student achievement."

Surveys were disseminated during these meetings, capturing the responses of nearly 1,600 stakeholders.

Survey Results:

  • Faculty -- of the 111 respondents, 48 percent are in support of a name change; 52 percent are not
  • Community -- of the 93 respondents, 25 percent are in support of a name change; 75 percent are not
  • Alumni -- Of the 339 respondents, 6 percent are in support of a name change; 94 percent are not.
  • School Advisory Council -- Of the 11 respondents, 64 percent are in support of a name change; 36 percent are not.
  • Parent Teacher Association -- Of the 4 respondents, 75 percent are in support of the name change; 25 percent are not
  • Students -- Of the 1,035 respondents, 64 percent are in support of a name change; 36 percent are not.

RELATED: Forrest High name change survey underway

"We recognize that we cannot and are not seeking to erase history," said Dr. Constance S. Hall, Duval County School Board member, District V. "For too long and too many, this name has represented the opposite of unity, respect, and equality - all that we expect in Duval schools; our Board has and is guided by a set of core values that promote equal opportunity, honors differences, and values diversity."

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