TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - In recent weeks, the name of Tyler’s Robert E. Lee High School has been at the center of a debate over whether the name should be changed or stay the same.
Dueling online petitions have already gathered thousands of signatures, from those on both sides of the debate.
“If you change the name, you’re giving the squeaky wheel the grease, and right now I don’t think the city of Tyler has the grease to want to give it,” said David Jones, a 1982 graduate of Robert E. Lee High School. “ You’ve got thousands upon thousands of alumni, and no one has asked them about the name change and I’m sure a majority of those people would not agree with a name change.”
The name change debate is nothing new to the Tyler ISD board. Back in 2018, board member Aaron D. Martinez failed to get a second on a motion that would have brought the school’s name up for a vote. Without a second to the motion, the meeting was adjourned without moving forward on the issue.
But in June 2020, those in support of the name change brought the issues back to the board’s attention by voicing their concerns at a regularly scheduled board meeting during the public comment portion.
The creator of the “keep the name” petition writes: “The name has been set in stone on the new building. We, the tax payers do not want to pay for this. Financially this is not a good idea for Tyler ISD.”
Jones echoes that concern.
“You’ve got football uniforms, band uniforms and all the associated costs to go with it,” Jones said. “And at this time, is it really a priority?”
Jones said the current conversation reminds him of another big decision made in the 1970s, when the school board voted to retire the Rebel as the school mascot and get rid of a large confederate flag used at football games. His brother was a student at the time.
“It destroyed the school and the school spirit for years. It wasn’t until probably the late 70s, or maybe even early 80s before the school spirit started to come back,” Jones said.
Jones says the debate over the name of Robert E. Lee High School could also apply to the name of another Tyler high school, John Tyler, and Jones is asking how far is too far.
“John Tyler was a slave owner and also advocated as president to expand slavery into the territories,” Jones said. “If we change John Tyler, isn’t is reasonable that the city’s name must be changed to? And how reasonable is that?”
It’s unclear if the name issue will be placed on any future Tyler ISD board agendas.