Frederick Douglass is safe, but Ben Carson still up for a potential name change in Detroit’s district

The Detroit school district will hold meetings next week to get input on potential name changes for three schools, including the school named after Ben Carson, the controversial Detroit native and renowned pediatric surgeon who is now part of President Trump’s cabinet.

But two other schools that were being looked at — including one many thought could be renamed to honor the late Aretha Franklin — are no longer under consideration for potential name changes after the district reviewed survey results.

The three schools moving ahead include the Benjamin Carson School for Science and Medicine, Harms Elementary School, and Catherine Ferguson Alternative Academy. These are the times and dates of the meetings at those schools:

  • Ferguson: 5 p.m., Feb. 27, 2750 Selden
  • Carson: 6 p.m., Feb. 28, 571 Mack Avenue
  • Harms: 8 a.m., March 1, 2400 Central Street

“The community meeting will allow stakeholders to see the survey results and provide input on proposed new names,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

The two schools no longer being considered are the Detroit School of Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men. Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for the district, said surveying showed there wasn’t enough support to continue moving ahead.

The process for potentially changing the names of the schools began last summer, when the district’s board of education approved a policy that spelled out guidelines for renaming schools.

The first step is requesting a name change for a school. That request can be made by a school board member, the superintendent, a School Advisory Council or more than half of the student body.

The second step is for any request to come before the school board, which then must decide whether to move ahead with seeking public comment about the proposal. The board did so in November.

The third step is for surveys and public meetings to be held to determine if enough interest exists for changing a name. Frederick Douglass and the school of the arts were both dropped after survey results showed there wasn’t enough support for a name change.

But surveys conducted at Carson, Harms and Ferguson showed more support.

When the school of arts was included on the list of schools that could see name changes, many assumed it could be named after Franklin. Vitti and some board members had previously floated the idea of naming a school after the treasured Detroit singer after she died last year.

The district’s renaming policy spells out the scenarios with which a school’s name could be changed.

A school is eligible for renaming if it was newly built or redesigned, the name of a school does not reflect the current school population, the community near the school requests a name change that more closely aligns with the history of the locality, or information newly discovered about the current name of the school is negative in nature.

While the district is working through potentially changing the name of three schools, it is also working on the naming of two other schools: The new high school that will be located on the campus of Marygrove College, and a new Latin school. Both are set to open in time for the next school year.

The potential name change at Carson has garnered widespread attention, given the school is named after the Detroit native who is now a key member of Trump’s administration. Former board member LaMar Lemmons, whose term ended in December, had been a key backer of the Carson name change. Among his issues with the name: A state-appointed emergency manager made the decision to name the school after Carson with no input from the community, and he said Carson’s political views are different than most Detroiters.

As for the other schools:

“The principal at Harms asked for the consideration of a name change to better market the school and represent the community,” Vitti said.

Parents and educators at the school have long discussed changing the name of that school out of concern that the literal meaning of the word “harms” would turn parents away. 

Vitti said the name change at Ferguson is being considered to coincide with a change in focus. The district first discussed changing the name of Catherine Ferguson last year when it announced plans to put an alternative school into the Catherine Ferguson building. The building had previously been home to a celebrated school for teen moms that closed a few years ago. It reopened this school year as a school for students with discipline issues.

Monique Bryant, the president of the parent-teacher association at Frederick Douglass, has been critical of the push to change the name at her son’s school.

“I’m ecstatic about the fact that Frederick Douglass has been removed from the list,” Bryant said. But, she said, she’s still not happy because she doesn’t believe the district has done enough to get input from parents about the process.