The Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education reviewed a draft for a policy for naming district facilities and mascots that would restrict the ability to name facilities for a living individual.
The policy states that with some exceptions, the district cannot name any facility paid for in whole or in part with district funds for an individual living at the time of its completion who held a paid federal, state, county, or municipal office in the past 10 years.
Exceptions include a building or facility that is constructed with the help of at least 50% private funds or if the name refers to someone living who has historical significance, is or has been a prisoner of war or is at least 75 and retired.
The draft policy says that facilities may be named or renamed to recognize its location, geography, natural land feature or history; to commemorate places, people or events that are of continued importance to the town, region, state or nation; honor a significant financial donor of funds to renovate or construct the facility.
“Any facility name adopted after the effective date of this policy must portray a strong positive image that should stand the test of time,” the policy states.
Board member Dalton Person said he feels the drafted policy is too rigid and complicated and needs to be “cleaned up.”
“At the end of the day, I feel like the biggest consideration for us is whether we want to include naming buildings after people, after individuals and after living individuals. … Quite frankly, I’m in favor of a pretty flexible policy without many constraints,” Person said. “I would be in favor of drastically reducing this policy and allowing facilities after named individuals if we so wish…”
Board member Talicia Richardson said the concern of those working to draft the policy, the panel had serious thoughts on the point of naming facilities after individuals.
“Simply because someone has a reputation X today does not mean they will have that same reputation 20, 50, 75 years from now. So from my standpoint, I err on the side of caution with having a section related to individuals,” Richardson said.
The policy also states that when naming a facility, administration should solicit nominations from the public; those recommendations shall be studied by a committee; and the committee shall recommend names for facilities at regularly scheduled board meetings.
“Mascots, school colors, school songs and related matters shall be selected using the same procedures required of naming facilities and also must portray a strong positive image that should stand the test of time,” the policy states.
The board did not vote on the policy. It was merely presented for study and will be voted on at a future meeting. Board President Susan McFerran said she hoped the community would contact board members with their thoughts on the policy.
In 2020 the board renamed Albert Pike Elementary School to Park Elementary. The controversial effort to rename the school building began earlier that year when the district’s Vision 2023 Equity and Minority Recruitment team recommended a renaming.
Albert Pike settled in Fort Smith in 1833 and taught school while he studied law. He opened a law practice in 1834. He later served as a general in the Confederate Army. The resolution brought up that Pike joined a petition in 1858 to “expel all free blacks from the State of Arkansas” and wrote in 1868, “We mean that the white race, and that race alone, shall govern this country. It is the only one that is fit to govern, and it is the only one that shall.”