SAN ANTONIO – An Obama cabinet official can express his personal opinion about changing the name of San Antonio’s Robert E. Lee High School on social media, but employees of the actual school cannot.
Officials with the North East Independent School District made that clear in a memo sent to school employees this week amid calls to rename the school in the wake of a deadly race-motivated church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, KENS 5 reports.
In June, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, posted a link to a story on Facebook about the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the Kentucky Capitol with a message for his home town:
“Glad to see this. In San Antonio, North East ISD should call together a group of board members, students and community members to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School as well. There are other, more appropriate individuals to honor and spotlight as role models for our young people.”
Castro is rumored to be a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016, according to the San Antonio Current.
Castro’s post is no longer on his Facebook page, but it did spark a conversation about a potential name change that didn’t receive a very warm reception from district officials.
“We were surprised to see the social-media post (from Castro),” Aubrey Chancellor, spokeswoman for NEISD, told the San Antonio Express-News. “We have not heard from any community members, parents, students, anyone at all, asking for a name change. In fact, since news of the comment came out, I’ve actually heard from numerous alums of Lee High School who are adamantly opposed to changing the name.”
Regardless, the debate rages on, and the NEISD is silencing its employees in hopes of quelling the controversy.
In a memo sent to employees Tuesday, district officials contends employees’ First Amendment rights are trumped by the NEISD’s “interest in making sure there are no disruptions to its schools,” KENS 5 reports.
“As you may be aware, North East ISD has been in the spotlight recently regarding the name of Robert E. Lee High School. While we understand that people have passionate opinions on this issue, it is important to remember that as District employees, you must be careful in expressing those opinions publicly as they are likely to cause disruptions to the operations of schools,” the memo read.
“Because there has already been substantial disruption to Lee High School and Central Office as a result of this topic, the District is hereby directing that employees refrain from engaging in those communications regarding the naming of the school, or any related topics,” it continues.
“The District understands that employees have First Amendment rights, but such rights must be balanced against the District’s compelling interest in making sure there are no disruptions to its schools, and the law allows for limitation of district employees’ speech when it causes any such disruption.”
The memo goes on to explain that determinations about naming district schools is a school board decision, and those who want to weigh in should do so at board meetings.
The district made no indication it was planning to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School, but they do have plans in the works to build a new school, or renovate the existing facility, The News Leader reports.
The school board discussed that transition at a recent retreat, but are still in the early planning phases and have not yet secured funding, according to the news site.