Historic Moment: Tyler ISD board votes 7-0 to change names of John Tyler, Robert E. Lee high schools

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Updated: Jul. 17, 2020 at 12:21 AM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Tyler ISD’s Board of Trustees held a special meeting tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss and take action on changing the names of Robert E. Lee High School and John Tyler High School.

At 9 p.m., the school board voted 7-0 to change the name of both schools. Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford asked that, in the futue, the schools not be named after people.

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Afterward, the school district released the following statement:

During tonight’s special meeting of the Tyler ISD Board of Trustees, the Board unanimously voted in favor of adjusting the names of Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools. After lengthy discussions of associated costs should the names be adjusted and personal statements by each trustee, a motion to vote on the action item was made by Artis Newsome, District 2, and seconded by Board Vice President Aaron Martinez, District 5.

“This has been a trying time to be a Board member to say the least,” Board President Wade Washmon said. “But I do believe the Board has made a decision that will remove a growing obstacle to our focus on successful student outcomes and has removed an issue that will only serve to be divisive for the community and future boards. We look forward to turning our focus back to successful student outcomes.”

“As always, I appreciate the Board’s work,” Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford said. “Public service is sometimes a thankless commitment that is under-appreciated for the time given in place of personal business and family time. Concerning this issue, the Board was acutely sensitive to comments and commentary and realizes the significance of their decision.”

After the vote in favor of adjusting the high school names passed, the Board held a First Reading to revise policy CW (LOCAL) for naming District facilities. Suggested policy CW (LOCAL) revisions can be found in tonight’s Board meeting agenda.

“As we build upon the continuous improvement we have accomplished over the past six years, our daily mission to provide the very best academic opportunities and school experiences continues, and that will not waver.” Crawford said.

The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held July 20 at 7 p.m.

WATCH: Tyler ISD school board meeting to vote on whether or not to change high school names

Tyler Mayor Martin Heines released the following statement after the vote:

I applaud the preparation and the diligence of the Tyler Independent School District (TISD) Board President Wade Washmon and the other TISD board members. Their vote tonight inspires a positive future for our community. It also allows the TISD educators, students, and parents to move forward with the huge task of reopening our newly built schools and furthering our student’s success.

For those of us that grew up in Tyler, we know that this has not been a quick decision. The names of the two high schools have been a topic of community discussion for at least 50 years. But remember these are just two high school names that reflect the past of two non-Tylerites. In my opinion, we are at a turning point. We listen with a fresh perspective as we move towards an inclusive future. Tonight, this community has come together through our elected school board to make this unanimous decision, which will provide the opportunity for public involvement in selecting the new high school names.

As we know, the consensus for thoughtful change is always a long road and never quick. The strength of our community is that we take the time to build this consensus. For those that advocated for this change, please remember that there are many people that are alumni of these two institutions that will need time to heal. Be proud of your role, but humble in your expression. Be mindful this will continue to be an emotional topic for many. Be sensitive to those holding a different view. I understand why some will be disappointed with this decision. To those that are, I urge you to remember why these facilities exist. They are built to be places that educate and inspire our young people so that they grow up with the knowledge and wisdom to contribute responsibly to our world. Simply put, they exist for Tyler's tomorrow. Please listen to the younger generations who have told us that the names of these buildings should be ones they can be proud to own. While their vision for the future will change the name of the schools, it does not take away the positive memories we have as alumni.

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to my 40th REL reunion next year.

Meeting recap:

After a period of public comment, the board spoke about the preliminary cost estimates for construction needs as far as facilities go, and what athletic apparel changes would cost.

Financial considerations discussion led by Superintendent Marty Crawford:

John Tyler uniforms were set to be replaced this year anyway. $130,000 was set aside to do that.

Robert E. Lee uniforms are set to be replaced next year for about that amount.

Parade banners and wrapping trailers are already set to be replaced, so that is not an additional cost.

As new instruments have been purchased, they have not been labeled with high school names Music pieces that have the school name on them can be easily covered.

“We are in a position right now that the school year has not started, things have not yet been ordered, and we can get in front of that and order things that need to be purchased (with a new name, if applicable).”

Sports uniforms may need to be bought “off the shelf” for fall, but spring sports uniforms have time to get those jerseys or uniforms replaced.

Patches for jackets are $14 and can be replaced for letter jackets, etc. “There are things we can do (in sports programs) to make it work.”

Cheer and Southern Bell uniforms - Cheer was set to to get uniforms for this year already; there is no REL insignia or JT insignia. Southern Belle uniforms do not have Lee insignia, either.

Changing signage across both new schools could run up to $330,000, Washmon reiterated after listening to reports on architectural changes.

WATCH: Tyler ISD school board meeting public comment on possible name changes for TISD high schools.

Washmon then opened the floor to comments for those in the room.

Board member Aaron D. Martinez said that the process toward change has created a strong movement of student leaders. He is ready to see the walls being torn down among the people in our community. He is in favor of a vote tonight.

Board member Yvonne Atkins, an educator herself, says that “we don’t need outsiders to come in to tell us what to do. We know what we want to do. There is a time and season for everything. This IS that time and season.”

Board Member Dr. Patricia A. Nation quoted Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only for lifting up...” She is a history teacher and a Civil War reenactor, she said. She encourages everyone to do their own research on historical events and not to get their historical knowledge from social media posts. Changing the name of a school alone will not change our community, she says.

Board member Rev. Fritz Hager mentioned the numerous letters and emails board members received, as well as a letter signed by over 30 local pastors, asking for the name change to occur. He is for changing the name, as he was two years ago.

Andy Bergfeld, board member, previously voted against the name change. “I did not believe that was the time,” he said. “I don’t believe we’re going to be enslaving people or having another civil war if we change the name. If I put myself in their shoes, it doesn’t feel right,' he said. “The former school board left us in a mess. I am not willing to kick the can down the road.”

Board President Wade Washmon says he has spoken with people he respects, and he said that our forefathers “put us in a bind and left us with a mess” by naming the schools after Lee and Tyler. He is ready to rip off the bandaid. He says it is ok to be a conservative and have compassion, and that we should not allow national news issues to cause us to fight among ourselves. “It’s time for people on both sides to lay down their swords. It’s ok to feel sorrow...the memories will always be there ... It’s not the school name I’m proud of, but the memories I made there.” “Let’s act now on this so we can get back to focusing on successful student outcomes.”


The special meeting was held in the Dr. Jack L. Davidson Conference Center at the Jim Plyer Instruction Complex, which is located at 804 Glenwood.

According to the agenda for tonight’s meeting, the Tyler ISD board of trustees will go into executive session to discuss the possible name changes.

After the board re-convenes from executive session, there will be time set aside in the meeting for “public participation.” The only action item on the agenda is discussing and possibly taking action on changing the names of Robert E. Lee High School and John Tyler High School.

The Tyler ISD board members will also be discussing what the possible name changes will cost the school district.

Under the Administrative Recommendation section of the agenda, it states, “The administration recommends the board resolve this issue.”

Tyler ISD Board president Wade Washmon announced the special called meeting at a brief press conference on Sunday night.

“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.

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.

Tyler ISD board discusses changing names of high schools; financial concerns addressed

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