EAST WENATCHEE - After years of debate, the Eastmont school board voted to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to Lee Elementary.
The naming of the school came after the naming of Ulysses S. Grant Elementary School, named after the U.S.’s 18th president and the general who led the Union Army, in 1953.
In 1955 when a new school was built, the district decided to name it Robert E. Lee in favor of those who had migrated from the South and in remembrance of the Missouri Compromise.
The first movement to change the name happened in 2015 in the wake of the Charleston church shooting by white supremacist, Dylann Roof. Media outlets pointed to a number of public schools named after Confederate leaders, Wenatchee being the only small speck on the map West of Texas.
Ultimately, the district decided to keep the name in order to honor history but in the beginning of August, the issue had risen again.
Community member Carol Wardell spoke about how supremacists are using Lee’s name as a battle cry. “You can teach history without naming something after someone and naming a school after someone is an honor,” Wardell said.
On Monday night, the board had its bi-monthly meeting ironically at Grant Elementary and planned to officially vote on the name change that was motioned in December by Superintendent Garn Christenson. Many of the same faces who had been at previous meetings had shown up to speak prior to the vote.
“Lee needs to be gone, period,” said one father, J.J. Jackson. “My kids attend all schools in the Eastmont School District and they come home daily and complain about racism, about teachers, about clothing that a white kid can wear but my child would get sent home.”
Another crowd member, Chuck Holland, asked the board to reject the name change in fear that this issue was a microcosm on the group’s agenda. “It will not stop at this name,” said Holland. “There are far more important issues like ensuring our kids get a quality education.” Holland ended his comments by saying, “They talked about teaching our kids about tolerance but they show no tolerance when it comes to this.”
“If we change the name, what does that accomplish?” asked new board member Dave Piepel. He called the name change a dead end but also saw it as a compromise. Piepel voted for the name change but said that more needs to be done in terms of compassion in the community.
It was an unanimous vote from the four members in attendance to change the name from Robert E. Lee to simply Lee Elementary that brought the majority of the crowd to a loud applause.
“I fought with myself as to whether I was okay with it or not [Lee Elementary] and ultimately came to the conclusion that you need to take change in steps,” said Carol Wardell after the vote.
The board was also supposed to look at the naming and name changing policy for schools but members were not ready to vote on the matter. The issue has been pushed back to the next meeting in the district office which will be February 26.
The next Eastmont School Board Meeting is scheduled for Jan. 22 at Eastmont Middle School.