News coverage of the controversy over the elementary school's name. Image from KFMB broadcast
News coverage of the controversy over the elementary school’s name. Image from KFMB broadcast

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to Pacific View Leadership Elementary School.

Calls for the name change rose last year amid a nationwide movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy from public places. However, surveys of the school community in Paradise Hills and of the public at large showed widespread support for keeping the name as-is, or at least maintaining “Lee” in the title.

Stephanie Broussard, 11, was one of two fifth-grade students who addressed the board before the vote in favor of the name change. She said the new name fits the school for two reasons.

“From our playground, we have a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean,” Broussard said. “Plus, the word pacific means peaceful and our school is very peaceful and calm.”

The school was named for the Civil War general when it opened in 1959 in honor of his contributions as an American soldier, according to the district. Lee was a longtime U.S. Army officer, but as a resident of Virginia sided with the South in the war between the states.

“I was shocked that we had an elementary school (named) after somebody that symbolizes racism, slavery, discrimination, and fought against the United States of America,” Trustee Kevin Beiser said.

“We allowed the children and the community and the teachers and the principal to engage in a process to figure out what would be an appropriate name for the school and the children that go there.”

According to the district, no consensus was reached about the name at two community meetings last year. The surveys showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents didn’t want to change the school name and just over half wanted to keep “Lee” as part of a new name if a switch were made.

District officials turned the issue over to its Schools Name Committee, which unanimously recommended a name change.

Students and teachers at the school narrowed potential new names to Pacific View Leadership Elementary and Amelia Earhart Elementary, and Pacific View received the most votes in an election in which students, staff, parents and family members cast ballots, according to the district.

The naming committee concurred with the selection and forwarded the recommendation to the school board for ratification.

“We had a school in our community, in San Diego, that carried a name that was associated with racism is disgraceful in this country,” said Board Vice President Richard Barrera.

The school’s student body is now three-quarters Hispanic and only 2.5 percent white, according to the district.

“This whole issue of the name change is, from my perspective, essential,” Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said. “I’m very excited for us here in San Diego moving forward and let the past be the past and move forward so that we can have the healing.”

The name change will go into effect on Aug. 1.

The trustees also voted unanimously to change the name of the Kearny High School of International Business to Kearny High School of College Connections.

The School of International Business opened a dozen years ago, but its core mission has evolved over that time since an early enrollment partnership with Mesa College was expanded, according to a district report.

In other board action, the cost of school lunches will increase by 25 cents next year, but only for those students who pay.

The increase will not affect students who get free or reduced lunches. It’s the first price increase since 2008 and was mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After two hours of hearing from staff and a few dozen residents of the Pt. Loma area, the board voted unanimously to approve a plan to renovate athletic and other facilities at Point Loma High School.

The plan includes installing lighting, a press box and a grandstand at the campus stadium; replacing the aging library building with a three-story structure that would include a library, media center and 20 classrooms; building a new cafeteria and renovating administrative offices.

Students rallied in support of the plan last week.

Some neighbors of the campus expressed their concern to the board over light pollution, traffic and parking issues that come with having night games at the stadium. A lawyer representing a group of residents threatened legal action if the board approved the plan.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.