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School district says Lee School renaming requires specific circumstances

Columbia school district policies allow a building to be renamed only if renovations are made or programs change (Garrett Bergquist)

Columbia's school district on Friday said any effort to rename a school must gain school board approval.

District spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the autonomous school board for Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School voted Thursday night to ask the district school board about changing the school's name. The building was opened in 1904 as Robert E. Lee School and still displays the Confederate general's name over its main entrances, but Baumstark said the school hasn't been referred to as such in decades. She said the only items at the school bearing Robert E. Lee's name are the friezes over the main doors and a plaque inside the building.

District policy states school names can be changed only if the current name no longer supports the objectives of the facility, when a specific program or theme changes, or due to additions or renovations. Baumstark said the building was given its current name when its arts-based curriculum was put in place in the early 1990s, so the first two scenarios don't apply. The building is scheduled to be expanded.

Further complicating matters is the building's status. Baumstark said Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission listed it as a notable property several years ago, so there could be additional paperwork involved if the building is altered to remove Lee's name.

Baumstark said the school district hasn't renamed any existing buildings in at least 40 years.

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