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Robert E. Lee Elementary Gets New Name

Photo caption: A sign outside Robert E. Lee Elementary School is pictured, June 22, 2015.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

A sign outside Robert E. Lee Elementary School is pictured, June 22, 2015.

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to Pacific View Leadership Elementary School.

Calls for the name change rose last year amid a nationwide movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy from public places. However, surveys of the school community in Paradise Hills and of the public at large showed widespread support for keeping the name as-is, or at least maintaining "Lee" in the title.

Stephanie Broussard, 11, was one of two fifth-grade students who addressed the board before the vote in favor of the name change. She said the new name fits the school for two reasons.

"From our playground, we have a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean," Broussard said. "Plus, the word pacific means peaceful and our school is very peaceful and calm."

The school was named for the Civil War general when it opened in 1959 in honor of his contributions as an American soldier, according to the district. Lee was a longtime U.S. Army officer, but as a resident of Virginia sided with the South in the war between the states.

"I was shocked that we had an elementary school (named) after somebody that symbolizes racism, slavery, discrimination, and fought against the United States of America," Trustee Kevin Beiser said.

"We allowed the children and the community and the teachers and the principal to engage in a process to figure out what would be an appropriate name for the school and the children that go there."

According to the district, no consensus was reached about the name at two community meetings last year. The surveys showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents didn't want to change the school name and just over half wanted to keep "Lee" as part of a new name if a switch were made.

District officials turned the issue over to its Schools Name Committee, which unanimously recommended a name change.

Students and teachers at the school narrowed potential new names to Pacific View Leadership Elementary and Amelia Earhart Elementary, and Pacific View received the most votes in an election in which students, staff, parents and family members cast ballots, according to the district.

The naming committee concurred with the selection and forwarded the recommendation to the school board for ratification.

"We had a school in our community, in San Diego, that carried a name that was associated with racism is disgraceful in this country," said Board Vice President Richard Barrera.

The school's student body is now three-quarters Hispanic and only 2.5 percent white, according to the district.

"This whole issue of the name change is, from my perspective, essential," Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said. "I'm very excited for us here in San Diego moving forward and let the past be the past and move forward so that we can have the healing."

The name change will go into effect on Aug. 1.

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