Wheeler name change coalition stresses cooperation with school board

The logo on front of a Cobb County School District facilityCobb County School District sign (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Members of a student-led group seeking the renaming of East Cobb’s Wheeler High School said a Zoom town hall meeting this week was a step in the right direction. But they’re not leaving the issue there.

The Wheeler Name Change coalition said they’ll redouble efforts to have their plea put on the Cobb County school board agenda for a full-fledged discussion. They also plan to push for the district to establish a formal name-change policy, which they said surrounding districts already possess.

“If we were to get a policy like that in place it would definitely be a step in the right direction,” said Zoe Shepard, a member of the group.

They said email campaigns targeting board members and seeking to build support in the community are also ongoing.

“I felt overall it was constructive in terms of hearing from both dissenters and supporters, said Nina Kasava, a senior, of the town hall.  She told the Courier that “ultimately we accomplished trying to establish some kind of common ground.”

Last summer the group began a petition drive they said has garnered well over 5,000 signatures out of concern that the school was named after Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general. The newly dubbed campus opened in 1965, the same year that Cobb schools were forced to integrate, and group members think there’s a direct correlation between the two with the then-board seemingly thumbing its nose at federal officials pressing for desegregation.

Wheeler Name Change members said the school was predominantly white at its inception. School district records show that non-white students make up a majority of the student body.

While some questions posed by audience members and others during the online forum indicated support, others were more pointed, asking whether the group was trying to bury the school’s history and suggesting that it was perhaps a puppet of “northern liberals.”

 Name Change members said that neither supposition was true.

“The main point here is not about Joseph Wheeler as an individual. You could debate for a long time whether he was a good person. You can debate the morality here but that’s a separate issue,” said Rachel Toole, another principal in the group.

 She told the Zoom session their research-which they want to present during a school board session-includes a look into meeting archives from the 1960s indicating that the Wheeler name was selected as a symbol, not for his track record or contributions.

She said that redubbing the campus would lend further weight to the school’s modern emphasis on inclusivity and diversity. Committee members added the proposed change was not an attempt to erase the record of the campus’s academic and athletic accomplishments.

And, they said, they are not pushing any specific new name at this point.

The high-schoolers said the response from the board has been minimal and at times frustrating. While students have addressed the governing body during public comment periods in recent months, the board has not approved putting the matter on its agenda for a formal presentation. The board also altered its rules to mandate a majority vote for members other than the chair to add an item, according to the Courier.

“The main point here is not about Joseph Wheeler as an individual. You could debate for a long time whether he was a good person. You can debate the morality here but that’s a separate issue,” said Rachel Toole, another principal in the group.


 A push to place the item on the February board agenda was rejected in late January, the Courier also reported.

In addition, a divided board voted last year to form a committee including citizen input to explore the proposal, only to reverse course in November.

Next steps for Wheeler Name Change include seeking to have the board put the item on the agenda for its March meeting. The group said the board chair and the Supt. of Schools could also sign off on adding the item.

Group members also said they are reaching out on social media and have established a website.

And they signaled that they’re in this for the long haul. Participant Caroline Hugh said she doesn’t look for a resolution by the end of the school year and said a framework has been set for a dozen or so students to lobby for the change in the coming school year.

Ultimately, indicated group member Sydney Spessard, they are not taking a confrontational approach.

“The board is the only way we can get a name change to happen,” she said. “So, cooperation with the board is very important.”

Watch the video of the town hall

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