JAX Chamber urges changes for Duval County schools named after Confederate figures

Emily Bloch
Florida Times-Union
File photo of JAX Chamber headquarters

The JAX Chamber became the latest local group to take a public stance in support of changing the names of local schools named after Confederate generals. 

In a statement released Friday morning, the group urged the Duval School Board to change the six school names that have Confederate ties. The schools are: 

  • J.E.B. Stuart Middle Schoo
  • Jefferson Davis Middle School
  • Joseph Finegan Elementary School
  • Kirby-Smith Middle School
  • Stonewall Jackson Elementary School
  • Robert E. Lee High School

Currently, those schools  — along with three that are tied to the marginalization of Native Americans — are a part of a lengthy renaming consideration process that includes a series of community meetings, votes and recommendations.

The chamber said it was not taking a position on the three non-Confederate schools: Andrew Jackson High School and Jean Ribault Middle and High schools at this time. 

School name changes:Everything you need to know about the consideration to rename 9 Duval schools

Past support:JAX Chamber voices support for Duval Schools sales tax referendum

While the chamber is not asking the school board to revise its process for renaming schools — which began last year — it is pressing Superintendent Diana Greene to recommend new names for the six schools and for the school board to approve those recommendations in its votes. 

Greene's recommendation is expected in mid-to-late May. 

“This is an economic development issue,” JAX Chamber Chair Henry Brown, who serves as President and CEO of Miller Electric, said in a statement. “We are asking companies to invest here, and for top talent to move and live here. We say that we are open to everyone and I believe that we are. But, right now, we have six school names that tell African Americans otherwise.”

As noted by the chamber, half of the 12 schools still named for Confederate soldiers in Florida are in Florida, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

“Our public schools should reflect the open, inclusive community that we are,” Brown said. “The Chamber is taking action to expand economic opportunity to everyone in our community ... Supporting the name change of these six schools is one more way for the business community to say that everyone is welcome in Jacksonville and everyone can succeed here.”

As recently as Friday, tensions from the school renaming process have trickled into local affairs and politics. During a joint meeting between the Duval County School Board and Jacksonville City Council — which did not have the name changes on its agenda — protestors began yelling in the chambers in support of school renaming forcing President Tommy Hazouri to call a recess. 

National media, including CNN, have covered community meetings for the renaming of Lee High School — arguably one of the most polarized schools being considered.

More:'A name that represents me': Young people lead the push for Lee High rename

On Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced a lawsuit on behalf of a Lee High School teacher. In the group's statement about the lawsuit, the school's renaming process is mentioned, along with the often racist comments that were made by people opposed to renaming the school. 

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her.