Woodrow Wilson High School

Some Woodrow Wilson alumni have rallied in support of the school’s name after a student concerned with the former president’s racist beliefs started a petition, urging the district to remove his name from the building.

Former student and principal Ruth Vail created a counter petition Tuesday that has received more than 1,500 signatures.

“While the student might have his opinion, this overshadows the history of the students and alumni who actually have graduated from Woodrow and have put money, time and effort to make Woodrow what it is now,” she said. “Please sign this petition to stop the name change during a volatile environment where things are not being evaluated and alumni are being taken for granted.”

Woodrow student Cameron McElhenie started the petition to the Dallas ISD school board shortly after Princeton University approved the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school.

Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote world peace through the League of Nations, but he also resegregated many federal offices and allowed “The Birth of a Nation” to be played at the White House. The film rekindled the KKK by depicting its members as saviors during Reconstruction.

The Woodrow Wilson Alumni Association agreed with Vail that there is no need for a name change because the majority of students, parents, graduates and community simply call the school “Woodrow.”

“The school was renamed ‘Woodrow’ decades ago,” alumni association President Randy Patterson said in an email. “Today, we are Woodrow Wildcats. Wilson’s presidency has had no place at our school. Unlike Princeton, we never idolized the man. We believe historians tell the story of his presidency well, and the stain of segregation will always be there. The name Woodrow has always, and will continue to, denote school pride, loyalty, respect, success and diversity.”

Vail wrote that a name change could affect the school’s International Baccalaureate documentation and designation as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.

Property owners planning exterior changes to designated buildings must notify the Texas Historical Commission 60 days in advance to allow time for consultation. Unapproved changes to property could result in removal of the designation and historic marker, according to the Texas Historical Commission website.

Woodrow opened in 1928, and Dallas ISD policy allows for renaming a school after 50 years, the Dallas Morning News reported. Proposed changes must be submitted to the school board by April 1 each year.

There is precedent for changing school names within DISD. In 2017, the district changed four schools named after Confederate generals. Two of them were in our neighborhood. Stonewall Jackson Elementary became Mockingbird Elementary, and Robert E. Lee Elementary became Geneva Heights Elementary.

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