Voters Support 6 Duval School Name Changes, Oppose 3

May 19, 2021

Students, alumni and community members of six Duval County schools want to change their names, and three schools’ communities want to keep their names. Those are the result of Wednesday’s ballot tallies at the county Supervisor of Elections Office.

Those voting to change the names were:

  • Joseph Finegan Elementary: 136 change; 26 keep
  • Stonewall Jackson Elementary: 114 change; 26 keep
  • Jefferson Davis Middle School: 133 change; 14 keep
  • Kirby Smith Middle School: 394 change; 311 keep
  • JEB Stuart Middle School: 282 change; 33 keep
  • Robert E. Lee High School: 3,817 change, 2,685 keep

Those school communities in favor of keeping their names are:

  • Jean Ribault Middle School:  48 change; 259 keep
  • Jean Ribault High School: 107 change; 609 keep
  • Andrew Jackson High School: 359 change; 378 keep

Most of the schools garnered just a few hundred votes, but at Robert E. Lee High, which has been at the center of the controversy over the schools named for white supremacists, more than 6,500 people voted.

Wednesday's tally was the fifth step in a nine-step renaming process to determine whether to change the names of schools named for Confederate generals and men believed to have committed violence against Native Americans. The process has garnered national attention and stirred up contention locally as the Jacksonville community considers the proper way to recognize our nation’s racist history. 

“Take the money that is going to be spent on changing the names of these schools and put it into education,” said Robert E. Lee Class of 1976 alumna Martha Pumphrey, who opposes changing the school names. “Let’s learn the positive things about these men and why they became generals, whether it be Confederacy or Union, and look at their accomplishments. Because we can find failure in everybody.” 

Civil rights activist Wells Todd was also in attendance at the vote count. Todd has been hosting regular protests outside DCPS administration offices calling for the names to be changed.

“We are asking that these changes be made in the best interests of all students; to protect their dignity and their self-esteem,” Todd has said

The votes were delivered to the Supervisor of Elections’ office in bright red bags, one bag for each day at each school. The ballots were then fed into tabulation machines, just like in a presidential election. 

If the machine could’t read a ballot for any reason, an elections official carrried the ballot to a separate table, where a specially appointed Canvassing Board applied strict criteria to determine which way the vote was intended. 

“In a presidential election, the rules are made by the Florida statutes,” said Robert Phillips, the Chief Elections Officer for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections. “These are basically rules that have been discussed and provided by the school board.” 

In a typical election, the Canvassing Board’s membership is culled from the Supervisor of Elections office, a county court judge, and a member of City Council. 

In this case, the Canvassing Board members are retired county court judge Pauline Drake, former Duval County Superintendent of Schools Ed Pratt-Dannals, and former school board member Vicki Drake (no relation). They were serving on the board on a volunteer basis. As their first order of business, they agreed that Judge Pauline Drake would be the chair of the Canvassing Board. 

The Canvassing Board’s role is to determine voter intent when the machine can’t read a ballot — for instance, if a voter circled two candidates’ names, then drew an arrow pointing to their real choice, or if a voter underlined a candidate’s name instead of filling in the bubble. 

The votes are non-binding — the Duval County school board has the final say in whether the names will change. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.