The Duval County School Board unanimously approved to rename six county public schools, including Jefferson Davis Middle, whose names honor Confederate leaders.
CNN  — 

A school board in Florida has voted to rename six of its schools named after Confederate leaders after community members demanded the change.

After debating the issue for a year, the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville approved on Tuesday the district’s recommendations to strip and replace the names.

The schools to be renamed are Joseph Finegan Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, J.E.B. Stuart Middle School, Kirby-Smith Middle School, Jefferson Davis Middle School and Robert E. Lee High School.

“The level of community engagement in this process was unlike anything we have ever experienced,” school board Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen said in a statement. “The support of organizations like the Jax Chamber, the Florida Times-Union, and the NAACP demonstrate how meaningful this was to our future as a community. Every message we send our children needs to be about inclusivity and belonging. Removing Confederate names from our schools helps accomplish that.”

Thousands of stakeholder groups, including students and community members, participated in the balloting process to offer input on whether or not they wanted the names of their schools changed.

“I want to thank all of the people who participated in this process, and I want to thank the school leaders and district employees who have managed this over the last several months,” DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said in an earlier statement. “We’ve had dozens of meetings, hours of public testimony and thousands of votes.”

DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene speaking to reporters after the school board approved the name changes.

The schools have been given new names – Anchor Academy, Hidden Oaks Elementary School, Westside Middle School, Springfield Middle School, Charger Academy and Riverside High School – effective August 3.

Board member Ashley Smith Juarez requested the names of three more schools – Jean Ribault Middle School, Jean Ribault High School and Andrew Jackson High School – to be changed. Ribault and Jackson were people “responsible for systematically marginalizing and killing Indigenous people,” Juarez said in her request.

“After dozens of meetings, hours of public testimony and a massive stakeholder balloting process, the recommendation to the board was to leave those three names and to change the original Confederate six,” Duval County Public Schools spokesman Tracy Pierce told CNN. “The Board approved that recommendation, and those names will not change.”

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) has launched the School Renaming Fund to cover the costs of renaming the six schools. This will include painting, changing uniforms, signs and gym floors to match the schools’ new names.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have also offered to pay for the home athletic and cheerleader uniforms for the schools undergoing name changes.

Despite the verdict, the decision did not come without opposition.

As the district started holding public meetings on whether Robert E. Lee High School should be renamed, the discussion at those meetings grew increasingly heated.

Opponents of the renaming effort made controversial statements such as “Jesus himself was never against slavery” and “You can’t cancel history.”

George Floyd’s impact

The death of George Floyd has led to the removal – by protesters in some cases and city leaders in others – of contentious statues that have riled some residents for decades, if not longer.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis. While being arrested, Floyd was held down by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee for more than nine minutes. His death sparked widespread protests across the United States, with people calling for an end to police brutality against people of color.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, at least 168 Confederate symbols have been removed or relocated from public places, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“I think we all were touched by the video recording of the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020,” board member Warren Jones, who sponsored the request to change the Confederate names, said during a board meeting. “For those of us who grew up here like myself, I was thankful but very surprised when [Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry] removed the Confederate statue from what was known at the time as Hemming Park. These two events prompted me to ask this board … to rename the six DCPS schools that are named for Confederate officers.”

“It was clear to me that with the removal of Confederate monuments in Jacksonville that the focus would turn to the school board and I felt we should be proactive and examine the history of those schools named for Confederate officers,” he said.

Thousands of children across the US attend schools that bear the names of Confederate leaders who fought to preserve slavery.

More than 240 schools across the US are named in honor of Confederate leaders, according to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Approximately half of those schools serve students that are predominantly Black or non-White.

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.