Dueling petitions spark debate over name of Bossier elementary school

Dueling petitions spark debate over name of Bossier elementary school

BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - The name of a Bossier Parish elementary school is at the center of dueling online petitions.

One of the petitions wants the name of Plantation Park Elementary in Bossier City to be changed. The other wants it to stay the same.

The proponents of a name change believe the school's name hearkens back to the days of slavery and does not reflect the progressive path the school is on now.

"Our children are valued and we as a community need the oppressive name of plantation removed and replaced with a name that truly represents the community that we are building in our small section of Bossier City," the petition says, referencing Carrie Martin Elementary in Plain Dealing, which was known as Plain Dealing Colored High School when it first opened. It became Plain Dealing Elementary until a few years ago, when the Martin name was restored.

Martin was the first African American teacher in Bossier Parish. 

The petition demanding the name change for Plantation Park also cites schools in other parts of the country that have changed their names, including Robert E. Lee Elementary in  Austin, TX, Mills E. Godwin Middle School in Woodbridge, VA and Jefferson Davis Middle School in Houston, which "were changed to reflect the values of the school rather than celebrating a part of history that was negative."

Plantation Park has more than 600 students, according to the school district. About 70 percent are African-American.

"I've had five kids go here and it's always been an issue with me," said one parent who did not want her name used when asked for her thoughts on the petition.

"I've always thought the name has been kind of racist," she said. "If they change it, that would be fine with me."

Bettye McCauley, who says she was Plantation Park's first ever African-American teacher, believes the whole debate is only taking away from the history of the school as all those who attended and worked there, and distracting from the successes achieved there.

"I don't see any educational value in changing it, and I would not support changing it," McCauley said, adding, "I personally don't think it's a negative name. Bossier Parish is rural. Almost all of Bossier Parish is rural. I understand that some people say that the name suggests that it's a plantation, but I just see a plantation as a large body of land mostly used for farming and other areas."

Jacqueline Upchurch felt so strongly about it that she a second petition online opposing the name change.

I attended Plantation Park Elementary in the early 60's, I do not feel the name has any negative affect on any students that attend that school only some adults! If the Board agrees to change the name as we have known it for over 50 years then you are changing my history and many others that have attended a great school, Plantation Park!!

"They say something like it's a plantation," said another parent who also did not wish to be identified for this story. "We don't think it's like that. We think it's a lovely school."

Some of the students we talked to about it also seemed divided on the issue.

"I think they should keep it the same, because you know, it's been the same for over the past few years, and it's kinda going to seem different with them changing the name," said former Plantation Park student Ashanti Floyd.

Fellow former Plantation Park student Dimia Williams disagreed.

"I think they should change the name to something else because it's inappropriate for a school, because back in the slavery days, slaves worked on a plantation," Williams said.

Supporters say the new name would be something along the lines of Pelican Pointe or Pride Park.

In a statement, Bossier Parish School Board spokeswoman Sonja Bailes made it clear that district administrators won't be taking any executive action to change the school's name, but there are other avenues.

"The administrative staff at Bossier Schools is not supportive of changing the name of Plantation Park Elementary. However, a Bossier Parish School Board member on the Administrative Committee can choose to get involved by placing an item on the agenda for consideration. If the agenda item makes it out of committee, it will go before the full School Board for discussion and a vote. If it dies in committee, it will be considered a moot point."

Both online petitions have set goals of gathering 200 signatures. As of Wednesday afternoon, the original petition calling for a name change had collected 112. The one opposing the name change had 186.

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