North East Independent School District’s decision to remove the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from one of its high schools is again stirring controversy.
A Facebook post promoting an online auction of items featuring the school’s old name and logo is drawing a strong reaction, especially from alumni who opposed the name change and don’t think the district should profit from it.
The website displaying the more than 1,000 items for sale goes live on Monday and will include items ranging from cheerleader megaphones to mosaics donated as senior class gifts.
“Now (NEISD) wants to profit off of the memorabilia displaying the name they found so offensive — you should have just left the name alone,” wrote Cora Diwt in a comment responding to North East’s Facebook post.
Some people who approved the change also don’t like the idea.
“I think that’s an embarrassment, and it’s irresponsible for the school district to now try to profit off items that are still connected to (the) Confederacy,” said Liza Guajardo-Barstad, who lives in the North East school district.
But others don’t have a problem with it.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation that the alumni get an opportunity to buy something that they might not have had a previous opportunity, and the school gets an opportunity to fundraise a bit, because we know that nowadays most schools do not have enough funding,” said Joanna Shelton, a 2001 graduate of Lee High School who supported the name change.
Shelton added: “It wasn’t something that was personally offensive to me, but when other people raise their voices and say that it is bothersome to them and they wouldn’t want to go to a school that reflects a history that they find problematic or offensive to them, then I can totally understand that the district was influenced to do the right thing.”
Matthew Stohlhandske, a 2002 graduate of one of Lee’s magnet schools that suggested renaming the school after author Harper Lee, also said he doesn’t have a problem with the auction.
“It’s important not to vilify all the people affiliated with that name,” said Stohlhandske, adding that Lee High School has “a long-standing history that shouldn’t be erased.”
District spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said North East is holding the auction because there is a lot of interest from alumni.
“This isn’t something to drum up a bunch of money. It was just something that we thought would be a fair way for alums to be able to get some items that otherwise really would be just destroyed,” Chancellor said.
She said the district is selling some senior class gifts because they’re too heavy to move easily and there is limited space in a museum planned for a corner of the high school library.
Chancellor said replicas of the senior class gifts and a statue of Robert E. Lee will be included in the museum, and money raised from the auction will go into the district’s general fund.
Stolhandske said he’d like the money to support diversity initiatives.
North East’s school board voted 5-2 to rename Robert E. Lee High School Legacy of Educational Excellence High School last year. The name changes goes into effect next month.
District officials said choosing an acronym for Lee and keeping the school colors and mascot name is saving North East more than a million dollars.
Removing references to “Robert E.” and replacing the logo is costing around $300,000.
Previously, the Volunteers’ mascot was portrayed as a Confederate soldier. Going forward, it will be a military dog.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille