The name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School has become one of the many symbols of the Confederacy taken down amid a national movement to reconsider the recognition given these controversial symbols.
The school was renamed Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School after a unanimous decision by the Columbia Board of Education at a meeting Monday night.
Five Columbia parents and residents who spoke in support of the name change at the meeting talked about history and the needs of children.
Joseph Chevalier brought up the Articles of Secession published by Confederate states before the Civil War. These documents state that the reason for secession was to preserve slavery, he said.
“That is why Lee fought, that is why his name is over those doors now and that is why we must remove it,” Chevalier said.
Lee Elementary renaming committee member Alex Barker said the board needed to focus on “what’s best for the kids.” He said that the school’s name should not only represent the school’s location and mission, but also should make students feel welcome and included.
Barker said the name “Lee” failed to do any of this.
Lee parent Farrah Littlepage said, “I really hope that the children who are at Lee in the future don’t have to be as confused as I see the children there now because kids are smart and they’re talking ... They notice the discrepancy between the name of their school and the values that the teachers and the parents and the kids hold there.”
Three audience members spoke against the name change, citing tradition and the school’s history in the community. Those speaking against the change also complained that the process was not transparent or fair.
Larry Joe Pauley, a member of the Lee Elementary renaming committee, questioned whether the school board had the ethical or legal right to change the school’s name.
Columbia resident Clark Odor presented a petition of 33 signatures against the renaming to the board. Odor’s family moved to Columbia in 1929, and members of his family have attended Lee since then. Odor spoke of their experiences at the school, and said the school is a “landmark of the neighborhood.”
The new name was recommended to the school board by a renaming committee made up of residents, parents, a former student and school employees. The committee accepted name nominations from the community, received more than 150 and scored the names based on factors such as how well they represented the school’s mission .
Lee Elementary was founded in 1904. While the school’s official name has remained Robert E. Lee Elementary School since it was founded, the district has referred to the school as Lee Expressive Arts Elementary since 1990.
The board began to consider renaming the school in August, after the Lee Autonomous School Board requested that the board consider a name change.
At the meeting, the board also recognized several district high school students for their achievements.
Three Battle High School students were recognized for winning first place in the Missouri Future Problem Solving State Championship for their efforts in cleaning up local fresh water sources and the Missouri River.
The board also recognized Hickman High School students Jeremiah Kent, who was the 2017-18 Class 4 Wrestling State Champion, and Grace Beahan, who was the 2018 Class 2 500-yard freestyle state champion and was honored for her success on the Hickman swim team.
The board unanimously approved a new contract for Superintendent Peter Stiepleman. It extends his current contract through June 30, 2021 and increases his annual compensation by 4.8 percent for the coming school year. This increase is comparable to the increases in teacher compensation.
Board members also voted to authorize planned expenditures on various capital projects, including renovations and upgrades for various buildings and the bond funding for the design and construction of Southwest Middle School.
“We have not forgotten about our current facility base and we are investing money in that as well as building new schools,” said board member James Whitt.
The board approved recommended construction contracts and engagements, such as new playground equipment for Grant Elementary School and flooring replacements for Hickman following water damage from a pipe that burst in January.