Cobb County students are not giving up on their mission to rename their high school despite inaction by the board of education.
More than a dozen Joseph Wheeler High School students used the board’s public comment time during a recent meeting to make their case that the school shouldn’t bear the name of the Confederate general who later served in the U.S. Army and Congress.
Ashleigh Ewald, a Wheeler senior, said she hopes others can empathize with students of color who walk the halls of a school bearing the name of a man who fought to keep slavery in place.
“They think we are trying to take away their history and that is not the case,” she said.
Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn, who declined to say where he stands on renaming Wheeler, said he does not question the students’ sincerity or the information they presented to the board.
He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “it just seems odd to me that they didn’t speak of any worthwhile deeds that Wheeler may have done after serving in the Civil War.”
Since last summer, members of the Wheeler Name Change Initiative urged board members to rename the school, which opened in 1965 bearing the Confederate general’s name the same year Cobb schools integrated. Wheeler alum and Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown supported the effort.
It initially appeared to gain traction when the board last summer voted to create a committee that would review names of schools across the district.
The momentum came to a halt in November when the board voted to disband the committee. Instead, students say they were told by board members to create a presentation.
But getting the presentation on a meeting agenda appeared stymied by a policy change approved in November that requires members to get support from four colleagues ― including themselves — before an item can be added for discussion.
Board member Charisse Davis, with the support of fellow Democrats Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre” Hutchins, said she requested numerous times to get the presentation on a meeting agenda, but received no response from her Republican colleagues on the board.
“I think the focus has become about giving these kids the opportunity to show the work they were asked to do,” said Davis, whose post includes Wheeler.
Wheeler junior Shweta Krishnan said she understands that some board members may not be in support of renaming the school, but said they should at least give students feedback.
“If we can’t even have a discussion about the name of the school, its originations and why it’s not appropriate, how are we going to talk about larger issues we have in Cobb County as a whole?” said Zoe Shepard, a Wheeler junior.
Stephen R. Martiny, 1981 Wheeler graduate and Marietta resident, told board members during its March meeting that he feels passionately about keeping the name in place.
Everyone knows the Confederacy was wrong, but Wheeler should not be judged solely based on his service in the Civil War, Martiny said.
“It’s wrong to judge people on slices of their resume,” he said.
Scamihorn said the push to rename Wheeler is “not gaining any traction.” He said he receives more communication from people who want to keep the Wheeler name in place than from those calling for change.
“I don’t think it’s a factor in the Wheeler community,” he said. “I think people have many more important things they are concerned about. This pandemic has shifted priorities, I think, for the majority of the population, both locally and nationally.”