Detroit board: No more schools named after the living

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Board of Education approved a new policy Tuesday that allows the district to rename buildings already named after living people. This decision clears the way for the possibility of changing the Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine should the board decide to do so.

No action was taken Tuesday night to actually change any school building names.

The new policy on naming and remaining schools in the district, approved in a 4-3 vote, says in part the board may change the name of a school for reasons that “the school community’s opinion that the name of the school no longer represents the culture or population of the geographic area in which the school is located.”

The policy also reads “any person thus honored must be deceased prior to the board’s selection of his/her name for commemoration honor.” The district must engage stakeholders in all naming or renaming recommendations.

On Tuesday night, no board members spoke about renaming any specific building. The policy was approved on a second reading after the board had discussed the issue in December. Board president Iris Taylor said the board was free to come back and change the policy again if needed.

Earlier Tuesday before the vote to approve the new policy, board member LaMar Lemmons said stripping the name Carson — current secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump Administration — would be an option the board could and should consider for two reasons.

Lemmons says the school’s name was changed by a former emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, when the state controlled the district, not by an elected board of education.

“That needs to be revisited. From my perspective, everything the EFM did needs to be further revisited,” Lemmons said.

Lemmons says he also takes issue with Carson’s political stances and affiliations and would support the school being renamed for those reasons as well.

“He is a so-called conservative Republican. A strict constructionist is one that wants to take the Constitution literally. If one takes that as a stance, it would allow the enslavement of those of African descent. When you align yourself with Trump that is a direct affront to the city of Detroit and the students of Detroit,” Lemmons said.

Carson High School is in the former Crockett Career and Technical Center building.

Located in Midtown across from the Detroit Medical Center, students at the school learn through work-based experiences, project-based learning, seminar/mentoring relationships with teachers and small group study, according to its website.

Also according to the school’s website, “the school is named in honor of the acclaimed Detroit-born, African-American pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson. ... The school aims to honor the contributions Dr. Carson has made not only to the global medical community but also as a role model for Detroit students with aspirations and interests in science and medical fields.”

Several Detroit schools are named after deceased historic figures but only a few are named after living people.