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New petition circulating to rename Forrest HS

7:49 AM, Sep 4, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A new effort is underway to rename a school in the Jacksonville Heights area of the city's west side.

Forrest High School is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is known most for his time as a Confederate General and as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

People have argued for decades that the name should be changed because they believe it is offensive to minorities and outdated.

Supporters contend the name should remain because of its historical nature and ties to the South.

They also argue Forrest changed his views and affiliation with the KKK toward the end of his life.

In 2008, the controversy landed Jacksonville in the national news after the Duval County School Board voted to keep the name.

Now, a petition on the website change.org is seeking once again to have the school renamed.

According to the petition, it was started by Omotayo Richmond, who claims to have a student at Forrest High School.

The petition has more than 53,000 signatures from across the U.S. so far. You can view it here.

Many people have left comments in support of a change, saying a school should not honor someone with ties to the KKK in the year 2013.

Richmond did not respond to our requests for comments, but we did get mixed reaction to the petition from people outside the school.

"Well, I think that would be good for the change because if that was something that was hidden before, but now it comes to light, that name shouldn't be there," said Jacksonville resident James Median.

Forrest High Senior Devin Brown said, "My personal opinion is that it's history and he might have been a leader of the KKK, but he was also a very influential person. Not necessarily just the KKK, you know what I'm saying? He was known for other things."

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti spoke publicly about the controversy this summer during a radio interview.

At the time, he said he supported a change, but that it needed to come from within the community.

When informed about the new effort online, Dr. Vitti said this week his position is unchanged.

He said the name alarmed him at first because of its ties to the KKK, but he still feels it would be inappropriate for him to try and rename an existing school.

"One of the things I've been talking about is the need to modernize Jacksonville. If we want folks to come here, whether its businesses, high-level employees to Jacksonville, names of schools, names of parks, all that matters. And it either sends a negative or a positive connotation," he said.

Vitti also acknowledged a major difference between today and the 2008 school board vote.

Five members who voted to keep the name no longer hold their positions, but Vitti did not speculate about what might happen if a vote were held today.

Meanwhile, First Coast News has learned the online petition, despite its thousands of signatures, is not enough to rename Forrest High.

The district provided these guidelines that must be followed in order for an existing school to receive a new name:

I.    The School Board will name or rename schools. Community input is desired and highly valued; however, the School Board has final authority over the name of any school.

II.   Naming a New School

A.    The Superintendent (or his designee) shall initiate the naming of a new school.  The Superintendent shall establish procedures for naming a new school, which include soliciting community input from the following:

1.    SAC of the school

2.    PTA of the school

3.    Students of the school

4.    Community members within the school's attendance zone

5.    Members of the school's faculty and staff

B.    The Superintendent shall offer a proposed name to the School Board for its decision by a vote of the Board.  The School Board may, after considering the Superintendent's recommendation, request another name be proposed for its consideration, until the Board approves the name of the school.

III.  Renaming an Existing School

A.    The Superintendent, any School Board member, or one of the initiating entities named below, may submit a written request to the School Board during a regular Board meeting, requesting the Board rename an existing school.  An "initiating entity" is defined as:

1.    SAC of the school

2.    PTA of the school

3.    At least 75% of the school's students

4.    Alumni of the school (the minimum number of which is at least 75% of the school's current student body population, as evidenced by a signed petition indicating the graduate's name and graduation year)*

5.    Community members within the school's attendance zone (the minimum number of which is at least 75% of the school's current student body population, as evidenced by a signed petition indicating the community member's name and address within the attendance zone)*

*Note:  The district will have no obligation to verify the accuracy of the petitions presented

B.    Upon receipt of the written request described in subsection II.A. above, the School Board shall decide by a majority vote of the Board whether to accept the written request and refer the matter to the Superintendent for further review. If the School Board accepts the written request, then Superintendent shall establish procedures for renaming the school, which include soliciting community input from the following:

1.    SAC of the school

2.    PTA of the school

3.    Students of the school

4.    Community members within the school's attendance zone

5.    Members of the school's faculty and staff

6.    Alumni of the school

C.    The Superintendent shall offer to the School Board for its decision by a vote of the Board, either a proposed new name to the Board or recommend no change to the school's existing name.  The School Board may, after considering the submission of the Superintendent's recommendation, accept or reject the recommendation, or request another name be proposed for its consideration, until the Board makes a final determination of the petition to rename the school.

V.   Requirements applicable to naming or renaming a school:

A.    The name of the school shall not be of a person (whether living or deceased).

B.    The name shall not be in conflict with an existing name of a school or district facility.

First Coast News

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