Columbia Board of Education considers name change for Robert E. Lee Elementary

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Ben Kimchi

On Sept. 11 last year, the Columbia Board of Education voted to assemble a committee to consider renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Throughout April, the committee accepted name ideas from the community and plans to present their recommendation to the Board of Education at the upcoming May 14 board meeting.
“The committee has developed an evaluation process for considering names submitted by the public,” Columbia Public Schools Director of Community Relations Michelle Baumstark said.  “Submissions will be evaluated on a 100-point scale, with each scoring category weighted as follows: One, meets the mission of the school – 45 points. Two, easily identifiable with the school – 25 points. Three, historical significance – 15 points. Four, geographical relevance – 10 points. Five, contributions to Columbia and/or Columbia Public Schools – 5 points.”
The personal meaning of the name Lee is variable throughout America. RBHS history teacher Chris Fischer notes the duality of Lee’s connection to United States history.
“General Lee is seen by a lot of people as; he’s a hero, he’s a villain,” Fischer said. “He’s the king of juxtaposition. He led a treasonous revolt against the United States Constitution but he also embodied twentieth-century states rights and the struggle for freedom for secessionist America.”
This individual divide finds itself prevalent within the RBHS student body. Sophomore Sami Alexander recalls her elementary experience at Mary Paxton Keeley Elementary as reason for change at Lee Elementary.

“I don’t think the name itself is inherently racist. If it were a monument to the confederate army it would be different.” -Sophia Froese, sophomore”


“The naming of Lee elementary after a confederate general makes me very uncomfortable,” Alexander said. “I associate the confederate army and flag with an old and outdated mentality of racism inside of America. There is no reason a school, a place where children are developing, should be named after a general who fought for such backward values.
“My school was named after Paxton Keeley, the first woman graduate of mizzou journalism. I was proud to have her as my school’s name because she was a great example to follow and embodied a movement towards equality and success for America.”
Sophomore Sophia Froese, who attended Lee Elementary, sees the name change as not entirely needed.
“I don’t think the name itself is inherently racist,” Froese said. “If it were a monument to the confederate army it would be different.”
Students, parents and faculty now await the decision of the May 14 board meeting for the future of Lee Elementary.
“He was a great military leader,” Fischer said. “I understand why some would argue that we should change [the name of Lee Elementary]. I can empathize with that, and they picked a volatile person. There’s so many good things about him but there’s also a lot of wicked things.”
What do you think of the name change?