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As Confederate Flag Debate Rages, Schools Weigh Mascot, Name Changes

South Carolina isn't the only place grappling with Confederate imagery in recent weeks. A number of schools with Confederate-themed mascots or names are likewise weighing changes in the wake of a church shooting that left nine dead in Charleston, S.C.

Last month, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a school board in Fort Smith, Ark., unanimously voted in favor of a measure to remove the Rebel mascot and "Dixie" fight song from Southside High School. If the board approves the measure again in a July 27 meeting, the fight song would be abolished beginning this coming school year, while the mascot change would go into effect for the 2016-17 school year.

Following the vote, which took place six days after the fatal shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left the acclaimed pastor and eight parishioners dead, the district posted a statement on its Facebook page explaining the school board's decision:

Giving great consideration to the continuing impact of perceived symbols of racism on the community, state and nation,...

Posted by Fort Smith Public Schools on Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Demographically, the school district is 11.4 percent black and more than 50 percent non-white, according to data from the 2013-14 school year. At Southside High School itself, 4.5 percent of the student body is black and more than one-third is non-white, according to data from the same school year.

Southside isn't the only school forced to grapple with such a decision in recent weeks. According to an analysis from the website Vocativ (h/t the Washington Post), nearly 200 public and charter K-12 schools across the nation "are named either explicitly for prominent Confederates or for places named after prominent Confederates."

One such school in San Diego, Robert E. Lee Elementary School, spurred Calif. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to send a letter to the district asking for it to change the name, NBCSanDiego.com reported. In the letter, Gonzalez wrote the community "deserves a school named after someone we can all admire. Robert E. Lee is not that person. The district responded to NBCSanDiego.com with a statement that read in part, "We see this as a wonderful opportunity to have a larger community dialogue with students, staff and families about the school name and look at the history and research surrounding Lee in order to make a collectively informed decision about changing the name or retaining it."

Meanwhile, in Duncan, S.C., a group is calling for James F. Byrnes High School to rid itself of its "Rebels" mascot, according to WSPA.com. Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the school board president for the Houston Independent school district, reportedly plans on discussing the possibility of "renaming six campuses named after Confederate loyalists," according to the Houston Chronicle, which schools chief Terry Grier is "strongly considering" recommending. Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro likewise called for community members to band together and support a name change for Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, according to 1200 News Radio WOAI.

For any school that decides to pursue such a change, a Little Rock, Ark.-based graphic designer has offered to re-design "the mascot or logo of any school or college that uses Confederate imagery" at no cost, according to the Arkansas Times.

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