Names of All Montgomery Schools Will Be Reviewed

Lee Middle renaming request triggers a check for 'appropriate candidates’

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The names of all Montgomery County public schools will be reviewed to ensure they are appropriate after the County Council’s president recommended a name change for Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School.

At a Monday meeting, the school board unanimously approved a resolution to create a committee to suggest new names for Lee Middle, in Silver Spring, and asked for a review of existing school names to “ensure that all names are appropriate candidates for school facilities.”

“There are concerns about some of our school names and I think this is an important and positive initiative for the board to look at that hasn’t been done, as far as I know, ever,” District 2 board member Rebecca Smondrowski said.

There are 206 public schools in Montgomery County serving about 163,000 students.

The resolution is the first formal step to change Lee Middle School’s name after a recommendation from Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro earlier this month.

Navarro is pushing for a change based on Lee’s history that included implementing racist housing policies, forcing minorities from buying or renting homes in some subdivisions.

Lee has been recognized for creating the first land-use and zoning system for the county and helped establish the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the regional water and sewer utility.

Descendants of Lee who live in the area said they support renaming the school.

District 3 school board member Pat O’Neill said there aren’t specific guidelines defining what makes a school name “appropriate,” but said it’s important to ensure the school communities know the historical context of school names.

O’Neill said she has heard informal complaints about Winston Churchill High School in Potomac with people alleging Churchill was an imperialist and about Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda from people concerned about Whitman’s sexual orientation.

The school system’s policy for naming or renaming school states it prefers schools be named after “deceased distinguished persons” who made significant contributions on the local, state or national level.

Staff members said they have begun researching school facility names and the history of the people. Although a timeline for the review wasn’t given, staff said it is an “in-depth process that will take a little time.”

Lee Middle School is a minority-majority school with less than 5 percent of students identifying as white, according to school system data. Sixty percent of students are Hispanic and 25.8 percent are black.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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