Detroit school named after Ben Carson would get a new name that evokes its Crockett history

The Detroit high school named after Dr. Benjamin Carson is poised to get a new name that reflects the school’s history.

An administrative proposal would change the name of the school from the Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine to Detroit High School of Science and Medicine at Crockett.

If approved by the full Detroit school board, the move would strip from the school the name of Carson — the controversial Detroit native and renowned pediatric surgeon who is now part of President Trump’s cabinet.

And the new name would be a nod to the school’s history. In 2011, the Carson high school opened on the campus of Crockett Career and Technical Center — a decision made by an emergency manager for the district. The two schools co-existed until last year, when the Crockett career technical program closed. The school site also at one point housed Crockett High School, which operated as a traditional high school until it was merged into East English Village Preparatory Academy. Crockett was named after Dr. Ethelene Crockett, the first African American woman in Michigan to become board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. 

The Carson name change is one of several name change proposals that need approval from the Detroit school board, the first since members approved a policy last year that outlined the procedure for naming or renaming schools.

On Monday, the board’s curriculum committee OK’d recommending the proposal for full board approval. None of the three board members who sit on the committee raised objections. But on Friday, there was some dissension during a finance committee meeting, as one member questioned the Carson name change and another raised concerns with the entire process for renaming schools. The full board would take up the issue at its April 16 meeting.

The other name changes on tap: Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women would become Legacy Academy and Harms Elementary School would become Southwest Detroit Elementary School.

The school board first identified the schools for potential name changes in November, two months after the board approved a policy that allows certain people (a school board member, the superintendent, a School Advisory Council or more than half of a school’s student body) to request a name change.

After the November decision — and per the new policy — surveys were conducted to determine whether there was interest in changing the name. If there was interest, additional surveys were conducted to determine what the new name should be.

The potential name change at Carson is the one that has garnered widespread attention, given the surgeon’s prominence. Former Detroit school board member LaMar Lemmons, whose term ended in December, had been a key backer of the change. Among his issues with the name: The state-appointed emergency manager placed the school at Crockett with little input from the community, and he has said Carson has political views that differ from most Detroiters. Others have objected to Carson’s name being put on a longtime school named after an accomplished doctor.

At Carson, 82 percent of the students favored changing the name of the school, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

At the finance committee meeting Friday, new board member Corletta Vaughn — who was elected in November — raised concerns about changing the Carson name.

“I’m just concerned that our reason for doing this may not be rooted in fairness and honesty — that we are penalizing someone for a job they have … and overlooking their stellar career of medicine and their commitment to this community,” Vaughn said. “Does [his name] not still ring strong as a name for our children, particularly our male children, to live up to?”

Board member Sonya Mays called the whole process of renaming schools “flawed” during Friday’s meeting. In November, when the board approved beginning the process that could lead to name changes, she was vocal in saying she thought the district’s time could be better spent on other matters. On Friday, she raised a number of concerns. One had to do with Vitti’s decision to prioritize the voices of students over adults as it relates to the name change at Harms Elementary. He said last month that the principal at Harms requested the name change “to better market the school and represent the community.”

Vitti had told the committee that while a large number of students favored a name change at Harms, most alumni did not. He said he thought it was important to prioritize student voices — something he reiterated at Monday’s curriculum meeting.

“If the children at that school don’t look at the name of the school as reflective of who they are and their history and their background, that’s problematic,” Vitti said. “We have to be committed to what children say. Sometimes you don’t agree. But children’s voice should matter in these types of situations.”