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Neighborhood association passes baton to community to decide whether Pinckney Elementary school name should change, too

While the renamed Pinkney Neighborhood Association prepares to ratify its new moniker, the question lingers of whether Pinckney Elementary will also change its name.

As the Times reported Monday, 359 residents participated in a vote to rename their neighborhood during a monthlong voting window in June. More than 43% of voters chose the name Pinkney from four finalists.

The Lawrence school district has been awaiting the neighborhood association’s decision, said Julie Boyle, executive director of communications for Lawrence Public Schools.

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“After school is back in session, we’ll be able to engage the school community in a discussion about the school’s name,” Boyle wrote in an email. “When previous school name changes were made, school-based committees met to gather and consider input from their communities. The committees then made a recommendation to the school board for its consideration.”

The neighborhood’s effort spanned a year and was prompted by residents’ desire to remove the name associated with Revolutionary War General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, an avowed slaveholder and plantation owner from South Carolina. With only one letter differentiating his last name, William Pinkney won out. He served as the seventh U.S. Attorney General and authored a powerful anti-slavery speech that was shared widely by abolitionists up to the Civil War, according to the neighborhood association’s website.

Eleanor Gardner, neighborhood coordinator for the neighborhood association, said the group was not working to rename the elementary school.

“Our focus was solely on our neighborhood’s name,” Gardner wrote in an email to the Times. “We recognize how important it is for the school district and local school-based committees to lead any possible renaming effort for the elementary school.”

Gardner said the association’s leadership was in contact with the principal of Pinckney Elementary School to provide information “about the careful and methodical process the neighborhood association followed in assessing the need for change as well as our voting process, but it is purely to communicate information rather than influence any decision-making.”

There is some precedent for the district renaming schools, as Boyle noted. In February 2018, the Lawrence School Board voted unanimously to rename South Middle School after Billy Mills. Mills is a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, a graduate of Haskell Institute and KU, and a gold-medal winner of the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He also served in the U.S. Marines and co-founded Running Strong for American Indian Youth in 1986, according to the organization’s website.

At the time, the school board asked the community to support managing the costs of the name change by phasing out the former name South from building signage and uniforms during regular replacement cycles.

The renaming effort was led by leaders in the local Indigenous community as a way to honor Mills and the origins of the land the middle school sits on, which was gifted to the school district by the former Haskell Institute, now known as Haskell Indian Nations University.

More coverage:

• July 6, 2021: Neighborhood association passes baton to community to decide whether Pinckney Elementary school name should change, too

July 5, 2021: Residents select new name for Pinckney neighborhood: Pinkney

• June 6, 2021: Pinckney Neighborhood residents voting between 4 finalists for new name

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