Ruth Campbell, Staff Writer
Midland Reporter-Telegram

On Aug. 8, parent Shay Templeton had a Level III grievance hearing before the MISD school board requesting the name of Lee Freshman High School’s yearbook be changed to something else from its current "Confederate."

The board took no action, but Superintendent Robert Nicks said an agreement reached in 1991 to do away with the Confederate flag as the Lee symbol will be reviewed to make sure it is being followed.

No timeline was set.

Board President James Fuller would like to see the song "Dixie" eliminated, as it is offensive to some in its original form.

In the wake of a parent’s complaint about Confederate terms and symbols still in use at Lee High School, school officials are going back to the future.

Shay Templeton, parent of a former Lee Freshman High School student, filed a complaint with the district over the school’s yearbook name, "The Confederate." Templeton also wanted trappings of the Confederacy from the mascot to the yearbook name changed because they are suggestive of a time when blacks were oppressed. She did not propose changing the name of the school.

No formal action was taken at the Aug. 8 Midland Independent School District Board meeting in response to Templeton’s complaint. But Superintendent Robert Nicks said school officials will review a 1991 agreement between the school and community banning the red and blue "stars and bars" battle flag to be sure it is still followed.

Nicks said there are two avenues to change, though none was required after the meeting. One is to make any changes comply with that agreement, if it is being violated, and the other would involve the board’s asking for an administrative review of issues surrounding the complaint, he said.

Board member Tommy Bishop said Friday he would like to see "The Confederate" name revisited, but if the principal and superintendent are happy, "I can live with that, too."

"To be honest, it doesn’t bother me (since) it’s something that happened years ago. As far as I’m concerned, even at my age, to me it’s a dead issue," Bishop said. "… I know who I am and I know what I stand for."

Lee Freshman Principal Larry Winget has said students named the yearbook through a contest in 1979 — the year the school name changed from Austin to Lee Freshman. Youngsters chose from a list of about 30 names and the "Confederate" was most popular.

Both Lee and Lee Freshman used the flag until 1991, when MISD trustees discontinued its use.

The schools still play a variation of "Dixie" at athletic contests and the senior high school book is called "RebeLee." The drill team is the Dixie Dolls, and the mascot Rebel Lee.

Board President James Fuller doesn’t think Templeton’s grievance will revive tensions from 1991. "It’s not the same community as it was back then," he said.

"I don’t think it will create extreme tension in the community. I think … if people would visit young people, they would see they are beyond that. And significantly, I think the adults are beyond that point, too."

Fuller said the Lee Freshman yearbook is "so far removed" from the Confederacy and Civil War. "The term ‘Confederate’ doesn’t mean what it meant 15 years ago," he said.

"It doesn’t carry the same ramifications unless an individual wants to put those ramifications on (themselves)." Fuller added the student bodies at Lee Freshman High, Lee High, Midland Freshman and Midland High have come a "significant way."

"I happen to think the sticking point of this whole issue was addressed 15 years ago and the mascot was in essence defrocked when we determined to remove the Confederate flag from that uniform and all extracurricular activities," Fuller said.

Lee Band Director Randy Storie was here then. The band now plays variations of "Dixie" during athletic contests and Fuller said those have reverted to the original.

"’Dixie’ has to go," the board president said on Thursday. "If the agreement had been adhered to totally — and I place significant responsibility on administration and the band director — ‘Dixie’ would have already been gone.

"We discussed extensively that even the playing of ‘Dixie’ would have to be phased out. The band director seemingly has done just the opposite. The song has come to take on its original form and context. I also said Tuesday (at the board meeting) that the song is being played in middle of the African American community (where Lee Freshman is located)."

Storie said the song plays a big role in school history but is not meant to offend anyone.

"I inherited this. This is who we were," said Storie, who has been at Lee for 27 years.

In its routine, the band forms the word "Lee," goes into the word "Rebels," plays the fight song and comes off the field playing "Dixie."

"That’s been the tradition since the late ’60s," Storie said.

Band uniforms sport the Confederate cap and swords and Robert E. Lee family crest on the back. "I could see how all that offends some people, but it has nothing to do with the spirit of what we’re trying to portray at this school," the band director said.

"We voluntarily stopped using the flag. Some people that come to games will bring (the flag) or display it, but that’s nothing to do with students or faculty. I can assure you when they’re marching, they’re not thinking about the South. They’re thinking how can we do our very best right now for our school."

Although many songs could replace "Dixie" in the band’s repertoire, Storie isn’t sure about silencing the song. "I will say that I think it would really negatively affect the spirit of the school," he said.

"I don’t think anybody’s intentionally trying to hurt anyone else."

There is also a picture of Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army during the Civil War in 1861-65, in the band hall. "It’s not there as a symbol of the South," Storie said.

"It’s a symbol of the school. He was a great American."

Theresa Myers wants to keep "Dixie" playing at Lee. She advises those who feel likewise to contact the band office.

"It’s nothing but a Lee High tradition," Myers said. "… I was a Lee High student and band student. I want my son to experience the same tradition I did."

Asked about changing the name of Lee High School sometime in the future, Bishop said he doesn’t see it happening.

"I don’t see it changing in the near future, or even in life of the school. It will always be the Midland Lee Rebels. I haven’t known of many high schools that have made that change," Bishop said.

© 2006

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