School named for segregationist sparks review of all MCPS school names

On Feb. 5, 2019, Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro sent a letter to Shebra Evans, the President of the Board of Education, and Jack Smith, the county’s superintendent, asking that Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School be renamed. The middle school, located in Silver Spring, opened in 1966. Its namesake, Edward Brooke Lee, was a lieutenant colonel in World War I, a former Secretary of State of Maryland, and a representative in the Maryland House of Delegates. He helped develop the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Lee is also remembered for his work as a real estate mogul whose policies prevented black people from buying or renting his houses, as well as his political campaign against civil rights legislation.

The issue of the middle school’s namesake was brought to Navarro’s attention after a concerned parent shared with her a Washington Post article detailing the numerous wrongdoings committed by Lee over the course of his political career. Furthermore, over 85% of E. Brooke Lee Middle School students are black or Hispanic, which Navarro viewed as cruel irony.

The MCPS Board of Education agreed that Navarro’s concerns were justified, and unanimously passed a resolution on Feb. 25 to create a committee to review the names of all 206 public schools in the county.

A Bethesda Beat article identified multiple schools in the county that may be affected by the committee. The article alleged that some people had complained about Walt Whitman High School’s name. The school is named after famed American poet Walt Whitman, a man thought to have been gay. When asked for comment, a Whitman student stated, “I’m not aware of anybody having expressed a desire to change the name. I personally wouldn’t really support the name being changed because it’s so well-known and established at this point.” The county’s newest school, Bayard Rustin Elementary School, was named after an openly gay man and advocate for LGBT rights.

Walt Whitman High School isn’t the only high school in the county to spark controversy over its name. In 2017, Churchill student Hari Iyer created a petition to change the name of his high school. Iyer objected to Churchill’s imperialist beliefs, as well as numerous bigoted statements made by the former prime minister of the United Kingdom.