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Destroyed by fire in 2017, Lee Elementary School in Tampa, Fla., has been renamed Tampa Heights Elementary.

Hillsborough County (Fla.) board gives new name to Robert E. Lee elementary

The Tampa school, which was destroyed by fire last year and will be rebuilt, will be called Tampa Heights Elementary when it reopens.

The Hillsborough County (Fla.) School Board has voted to rename an elementary school that for more than 70 years carried the name of Confederate War General Robert E. Lee.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that the board voted 3 to 2 to name the the school Tampa Heights Elementary.

The renaming is a milestone in what has been a difficult year for the school community. While the area was recovering from Hurricane Irma and classes were not in session, the 111-year-old elementary school was destroyed by fire in September 2017.

The board voted last month to rebuild the school. The district says it is working with architects and insurance companies on a design for the new school. It says the design "will integrate the school’s historic façade with the elements of a modern school inside."

Board members Melissa Snively and Lynn Gray voted against the new name for the school. They said the community was not given enough time to consider options.

But Tamara Shamburger, whose voting district includes the school, says the community embraces the new name.

Shamburger, who argued for the renaming long before fire destroyed the school, came prepared to head off any argument that the school should continue to honor Lee.

The school was originally known as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School, but was renamed for Lee in 1943, which Shamburger described as "an era of white resistance to equality."

She told the board and audience that "for anyone to assert that changing this name is erasing history or some sort of revisionist history is laughable and delusional at best."

Gray and Snively, while not disagreeing with Shamburger's position, suggested that the board rushed the decision without adequate public input. Gray said the immediate Tampa Heights community was not the only one that should have weighed in, because the campus is a magnet school that draws from the entire county.

Board attorney Jim Porter, however, assured the members that the district had followed the policy correctly.

Shamburger made the case that now is the best time to make the decision, as the district embarks on a reconstruction of the school.

"I'm asking this board to finally heal this community, respect this community, and let's move this forward," she said.

 

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