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Our view: Refocus effort to address Auburn school name-change request

Our view: Refocus effort to address Auburn school name-change request


Joseph Sheppard, left, bumps elbows with Eli Hernandez after Sheppard was voted in over Hernandez to become the president of the school board for the Auburn Enlarged City School District in January. Hernandez was later voted in as vice president.

When the Auburn school board was presented in January with a student request to name the high school building after Harriet Tubman, the board did the right thing and promised to give the idea its thoughtful consideration. But now that the response to that request has gone off the rails, the school district needs to find a way to restart the conversation.

After an initial exploration of the name-change request and the approval of a formal resolution to explore the idea, things became more complicated in April when the school board announced that it would begin accepting recommendations for a new high school name and would put together a 25-person committee to consider the possibilities. In May, a panel of 36 was formed to review suggestions, and a public survey was hastily added to the mix to collect further feedback. Within a week, however, the board decided to "pause" the matter altogether so it could regroup and reconsider the whole process.

The biggest reason the process kept growing and became more complicated was that rather than working toward a yes or no answer regarding the name Harriet Tubman, the board decided to consider any and all names submitted by the public.

There was also a lot of confusion over whether the school colors would change or if the sports teams would still be called Maroons. Some also began throwing out outrageous dollar figures for costs they assumed would be incurred with a name change.

Another frequent critique before the pause was that the board was somehow short-changing more important educational policy matters by giving this request any consideration at all.

The public should understand, however, that we don't elect our government boards to deal with one issue at a time. It's their job, along with the district administration, to be able to multi-task on a variety of issues. They do just that all the time, and they can certainly do it in this case.

All things considered, putting the brakes on this procedure was the right thing to do at the moment. But a "pause" should be just that, and although there is no longer time to get this done before the end of the school year, the Tubman name change request requires an official decision.

A new fiscal year for the school district begins in July, and a new member will be joining the board. At that time, the board should use the lessons learned over the last six months to take an honest look at what went wrong and rewrite its policy regarding renaming — not just for the sake of this proposal but others that will arise in the future. The public is also going to need to be provided with a firm dollar figure on what it would cost.

No matter what the end result is, not everyone is going to agree it was the right decision. And that's alright, as long as the means of coming to the decision are thoughtful and fair. However well-intentioned, the response from the school board in this matter has not yet resulted in any answer at all. It's important for that work to be restarted and refocused so that it can be brought to a conclusion.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.


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