Almost every person who stepped to the microphone at Tyler ISD's board meeting urged the board to put Robert E. Lee High School's potential name change back on the agenda.
Because the comments came during public comment, the board could take no action or give any response during Monday night's school board meeting.
However, that didn't stop more than two dozen residents, many of them students, from making impassioned pleas for the board to put the item up for a vote.
Students who spoke said they were embarrassed and ashamed of their school's name and did not feel it represented the student body.
"By placing this item back on the agenda you tell students like my friends and I that our voice matters," said Lee junior Caroline Crawford.
Several speakers drew applause from the crowd of more than about 100 people who attended the meeting, including Fritz Hager III, a Lee senior and the son of Board President Fritz Hager.
"We as a community have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world, even the rest of the state, hiding behind our pine curtain in an effort to retain our traditions and social norms and clinging to the misguided values of our past," Hager said. "We should be ashamed of this name. Whether we realize it or not we are glorifying a man who fought and killed to instill racism in our nation."
Lee junior Taniyah Jones said she believes Robert E. Lee "fought for the enslavement of my ancestors, he fought so they could be beaten, raped, hung in fields, he fought so they could be forever oppressed. He belongs in the history books, but if I had my choice we would be teaching it a little bit differently"
Jones, along with several others, urged the board to vote on the issue.
"We're at the age when we get adult-like responsibilities, without a voice," Jones said. "We were asked where were the students. We were told the adults would handle it. Where's the vote?"
The issue of changing the school's name first was raised last summer and gained traction amid a national push to remove symbols of the Confederacy. Several school districts nationwide and across the state, including those in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, have changed names of schools that were associated with the Confederacy.
Opposing groups of community members brought the name issue up for discussion last summer, with more than 40 community members speaking at the first meeting, almost equally split on whether or not to change the name.
That prompted the TISD board to bring up a discussion of the matter in September, with many board members at that time signaling support for a name change. However, they indicated they wanted to put the issue aside until the current school year was over so as not to distract from the district's goal of academic achievement.
The issue resurfaced last week during a board workshop when trustees reviewed an analysis of costs associated with a name change for one or both high schools. Trustees Orenthia Mason and Aaron Martinez requested the board place an action item for the name change on its next agenda. Board President Hager opted to place the item on the June 7 agenda, but the request was withdrawn Thursday.
Mason, who previously signaled support for a name change, on Thursday said she'd had time to reflect and listen to the community and now never would support a name change as long as she was on the board. Martinez said he was disappointed but there simply wasn't board support for the change.
After Monday's meeting, Mason said she was proud of the students who spoke out and she would take into consideration everything they said.
At a community meeting held immediately before the school board meeting, community activist and former city councilman Darryl Bowdre said he and other African-American leaders had met with Mason and trustee Jean Washington earlier in the day and were assured that it wasn't a dead issue.
Bowdre said he and other community members seeking a name change will be watching and, "We're going to hold them accountable but we're going to stand behind them when they do the right thing."
During Monday night's board meeting, Lee parent Carrie Barrera read from the core beliefs listed in Tyler ISD's literature.
"The Tyler ISD board believes that schools and communities have an enormous impact on students lives. It is the district's responsibility to collaborate with the community to achieve and sustain excellence," Barrera read, and then questioned how the item could be pulled from the agenda without community input. "Your core beliefs said schools and communities have a enormous impact on students' lives and then you took something off the agenda and didn't let the community have the opportunity to get their input."
One community member did not speak in favor of the name change. Bob Brewer said renaming the schools would erase history and called Monday's meeting, "the tribalism of democracy."
But the rest of the speakers were strongly in favor of either renaming Lee or at least taking a board vote on the issue.
Nick Pesina said it's not a white black or brown issue, rather it's "an issue of civic clarity and above all community identity. I urge this board to take a public vote either up or down on this issue."