Months after Ben Carson’s name became a hot-button issue in Detroit, the city school board approved a policy Tuesday that moves Carson’s critics one step closer to removing the Trump cabinet member’s name from a district school.
But the name changes might not be limited to Dr. Benjamin Carson High School for Science and Medicine.
“Several buildings want to take part” in the renaming process, said Iris Taylor, board president, at a board meeting Tuesday. She added that district staff will have to decide which school names to consider first because “there are several steps in the process that are going to be time-consuming and resource consuming.”
Under the new policy, a school can be renamed after six public meetings and two votes by the school board, meaning it would be months before any changes take place.
Which school is first up? Carson High School is still a good bet.
Board member LaMar Lemmons has argued for months that Carson is working against the interest of Detroiters as head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He contends that there is broad public support for changing the name of the school, and he said Tuesday that he plans to set the process in motion as soon as possible.
That would be the first step in a lengthy process. Once the board voted to follow Lemmons’ recommendation, the superintendent will conduct community meetings and surveys with alumni, the PTA, the school advisory council, and current students and staff. Then, if there is support for the idea, the issue will come back to the school board for a final vote.
Controversy over Carson High School erupted last year after the renowned pediatric neurosurgeon ran for president as a Republican, dropped out, endorsed Trump, then took a senior position in Trump’s new administration.
In 2011, when the school opened, Carson was widely held up as a role model for African-American youth. In a memoir — and later on the campaign trail — he cast his life as a story of success against the odds, and he launched a scholarship program that encouraged children to follow in his path.
According to the school’s website, it “aims to honor the contributions Dr. Carson has made not only to the global medical community, but also as a role model for Detroit students with aspirations and interests in science and medical fields.”
But Carson’s foray into the political arena soured his reputation in places like Baltimore (where he worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital) and Detroit — the majority-black, overwhelmingly Democratic cities where he was most revered.
Lemmons said his opposition to Carson is “political.” He added that he would also push to rename schools named after “unrepentant enslavers,” though he said it would likely be impossible to assemble the requisite support for changing the name of Cass Technical High School, the renowned high school named after Lewis Cass, a Michigan senator who advocated for states’ right to allow or outlaw slavery.
Two board members suggested that a school be named after soul singer Aretha Franklin, whose death recently dominated headlines in Detroit.
“I received emails about renaming some schools,” said board member Deborah Hunter-Harvill. “DSA (Detroit School of Arts) was mentioned” as a candidate to take Franklin’s name.
She said she’s also received requests for name changes at Harms Elementary School in Southwest Detroit and Carson High School.