TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - During a brief press conference Sunday, Wade Washmon, the president of the Tyler ISD Board, announced that the school district will hold a special meeting Thursday night to “discuss and take action on” changing the names of the Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high school campuses.
Washmon said if the school board votes to proceed with the name-changes they will start the process of deciding the best way to go about doing that. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 16.
“After much prayer and consideration, I’ve decided to address this topic head-on with a board courageous enough to take action and with the support of numerous local leaders and legends,” Washmon said during the press conference.
The Tyler ISD board president mentioned two of those community leaders, Earl Campbell and Kevin Eltife, by name. He said that Campbell, a John Tyler graduate, is a Heisman Trophy winner, an NFL great, and a successful businessman. He added that Eltife, a Robert E. graduate, is a former mayor of Tyler and a former Texas state senator who now serves as the president of the Board of Regents for the University of Texas system.
Washmon said that over the past few weeks, he and the other board members have had the opportunity to hear from the community about people’s wishes for the names of Tyler ISD’s two flagship high school campuses.
“The names of our high school campuses, gifted to us by previous generations, have become the source of much debate and consternation,” Washmon said. “Candidly, it is also becoming an increasingly bigger stumbling block for us as a district to achieve positive student outcomes and toward our efforts to foster unity as a city.”
The Tyler ISD board president said individual school board members have been hearing from small groups of people from all walks of life and parts of Tyler. He said they wanted to get feedback from a large cross-section of the community.
Washmon said Tyler ISD officials must look at this issue objectively.
“Objectivity must permeate our thought processes and decisions,” Washmon said.
He added that the objectivity he mentioned must also be applied to John Tyler High School, and the decision to re-name that campus should be made using the same criteria used to make the decision to re-name Robert E. High School. He explained that while John Tyler didn’t help the Confederacy on the local, he served as a member of the Confederate Congress and that Lee answered to that legislative body as the commanding general of the Confederate Army.
“It is my hope that we can move forward, through, and from this issue in unison with a poised and rational demeanor so we can turn our focus back to successful student outcomes,” Washmon said.
Washmon said that the decision to put the high school name changes came after a “busy” past five months of dealing with the COVID-10 pandemic and its impact on restricting Tyler ISD’s ability to meet students’ educational, social, and emotional needs in order to create successful student outcomes.