Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Forrest High Name Debate Stirs Emotions at Meeting; Board Members Don't Comment, Try to Steer Talk to Back to Budget

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Forrest High Name Debate Stirs Emotions at Meeting; Board Members Don't Comment, Try to Steer Talk to Back to Budget

Article excerpt

Byline: Meredith Rutland

A Mandarin-area town hall meeting Thursday night generated tense opinions and emotions from some of those in attendance about whether to rename Nathan B. Forrest High School, including anxiety over whether the topic was appropriate at the meeting.

Most people who spoke said the name - which is titled after a Ku Klux Klan leader, slave trader and Confederate general - was degrading, racist or shameful.

"It's like having Adolf Hitler or someone as a name of a high school," said Cheryl Adams, 66-year-old Duval County resident who attended Forrest High.

A handful of people who attended said the name should stay, stating historical accounts about Forrest were inaccurate and that he wasn't a racist, along with one person who said Forrest was one of the first white men to reach out to slaves after Emancipation.

Some audience members cut off speakers, and a few at the microphone raised their voices when talking about Forrest's history.

Part of the tension of the meeting boiled down to whether Forrest was even supposed to be a topic in the meeting hosted by board member Jason Fischer.

"The original attempt at this meeting was for Mr. Fischer to talk about the budget. This meeting was not intended to be a conversation about Forrest," said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

"We're not intruding or interrupting. You invited us," said Andy Johnson, an Arlington resident and former member of the Florida House of Representatives.

The issue of whether to rename Forrest High seeped into the budget-centric town hall meeting after Fischer discussed previously the possibility of using the meeting at Mandarin High to get his constituents' opinions about Forrest High. Following media reports and a Change.org news release that mentioned the town hall meeting could cover the renaming issue, at least a dozen people came to discuss the name.

The School Board decided last week to allow board member Connie Hall to talk with the Forrest High community and return to the board after 30 days. Forrest High is within Hall's area of responsibility. Board members have agreed not to publicly express their opinions about the name of the school right now. …

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