The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously Friday to urge the Duval County Public Schools Board to rename six public schools named for Confederate generals.
Last year, the school district began an extensive renaming process that includes community meetings and non-binding votes from residents, students and alumni on possible names. The process has been confrontational at times, as mostly older, white alumni advocate for keeping the names and mostly younger alumni and students of color fight to change them.
DCPS Superintendent Diana Greene is expected to make a recommendation to the School Board for formal votes as early as next month.
School Board Chair Elizabeth Andersen is a non-voting member of the Jax Chamber Bard of Directors; Friday’s vote does not necessarily reflect her position on the issue.
“This is an economic development issue,” said JAX Chamber Chair Henry Brown, who serves as President and CEO of Miller Electric. “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.”
The business group has waded into local politics previously on matters they consider relevant to the city’s business climate and economic development; for instance, in 2017 it supported expanding labor protections to LGBTQ employees.
The chamber’s announcement comes on the same day as local activists with groups including the Take Em Down Jax and the Northside Coalition interrupted a joint City Council/School Board meeting.
“It’s our children. It’s our future. It’s definitely that important,” protester Shelia Wright told WJCT News partner News4Jax.
The school renaming process also includes Andrew Jackson High School and Jean Ribault middle and high schools, but the chamber did not take a position on those names.
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