A Jackson, Mississippi, elementary school is ditching its former name honoring the leader of the Confederacy in favor of one that honors the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Davis IB Elementary School is named after Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate States of America. The confederacy fought to keep black people enslaved, making it a controversial choice for a school whose student body is 98 percent black, according to current demographics reported by The Clarion-Ledger.
"Jefferson Davis, although infamous in his own right, would probably not be too happy about a diverse school promoting the education of the very individuals he fought to keep enslaved being named after him," said Janelle Jefferson at a meeting with the Jackson Public Schools (JPS) Board of Trustees on Oct. 17.
Mississippi Today reports that Jackson's school board policy requires schools to be named after "persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school system." It also states that a "facility named to honor a person shall not be renamed except for compelling reasons."
The push to rename the school became urgent after the Mississippi Board of Education requested Gov. Phil Bryant to declare a state of emergency for JPS in September. Such a ruling would result in state control of the schools, meaning that the board of trustees would not meet for a while, The Clarion-Ledger reports.
The possibility of being unable to meet in the near future prompted the board to take up the issue of renaming the three Confederate-named schools in their district -- Davis Magnet, Lee Elementary and George Elementary -- to something that Jefferson says "fully represents ideals and public stances consistent with what we want our children to believe about themselves."
The board's attorney, Dorian Turner, was unsure at the time if they had the legal power to change the schools' names. They still went ahead with the vote.
According to Mississippi Today, the school's parent-teacher association first asked for name requests during a meeting on Sept. 21. Parents and staff had two weeks to submit their suggestions by email.
The final vote was cast by paper ballot on Oct. 5. Barack Obama Magnet IB emerged as the clear winning name.
Despite initial doubts, Turner stated on Oct. 17 that the school would be able to change its name beginning in the 2018-19 school year. There is no more information as to when the other two schools will be renamed or who they might be named after.