Roberto-Clemente-Middle-School A group of supporters of Alianza for Progress presented their claim during a OCPS Board meeting.
Image Courtesy of Alianza for Progress

Parents and local organizations demand replacing the name of a Confederate general to tribute the Puerto Rican baseball legend. This would be the first school in Central Florida named after a Latino.

ORLANDO, Florida — Parents, community leaders, the Alianza for Progress, and other organizations, have been debating since 2017 on how to rename Stonewall Jackson Middle School, an establishment that serves a predominantly Latino population while tributing a Confederate general.

Marcos Vilar, executive director of Alianza for Progress, explained that when news of police abuse towards unarmed individuals came to the forefront, some groups began proposing that the school be renamed.

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“First there was a small attempt to change the name of Colonial High School, but nothing came about. After incidents [of police abuse] increased, Latino Justice, Misión Boricua, and other leaders in Orlando moved forward to have the name Stonewall Jackson changed,” Vilar told The Americano. 

Although support for the initiative has been growing—as more voices from parents, students, religious leaders, and even the media have joined in—the group has encountered resistance to the change from the Orange County Public School Board and the School Advisory Council (SAC).

“The local School Advisory Council has been especially reluctant to give the school a Hispanic name,” Vilar says. “I believe those who are in that council—most of them are not Hispanic—want the name of the school not to be Hispanic. But, there is already a consensus. It was even published on the front page of La Prensa [de la Florida Central].”

The principal of the middle school has said there is resistance, even though 75 percent of the student body is Latino and predominantly Puerto Rican. 

Vilar points out that no public school in Central Florida is named after a Hispanic figure.

When the initiative started, there was a lot of discussion about a possible name for the school. At the end of 2017, Alianza for Progress conducted a survey for people to propose names. Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente obtained the majority of votes at 55 percent. In second place was Puerto Rican Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Venezuelan military leader Simón Bolívar, salsa singer Celia Cruz, and local congressman Tony Ortiz were also considered in naming the school.

“Clemente is a transcendental figure. He represents Puerto Rico and all of Latin America as a Latino player in major league baseball. He died while bringing aid to Nicaragua, and traveled throughout Latin America doing clinics for young people and helping countries in different causes,” Vilar says.

The Alianza for Progress director explained that SAC has included more general names—like Diversity School and Seminole Creek—in order to avoid the possible controversies that can arise when names refer to historical or prominent figures.  

The Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) board is conducting a naming survey until August 31, which includes possible names gleaned from students who wrote essays as part of the renaming process. The three Latino figures most mentioned as by the students are Clemente, astronaut Ellen Ochoa, and Bolívar.

“There is not much clarity on how the board is going to validate the student votes, but the pressure is mounting,” says Vilar. “Media such as Telemundo, Univision, and La Prensa have come out in favor of the renaming.”

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“The Orlando Sentinel published an editorial supporting Clemente and criticized the council and board for taking three years to rename the school,” he says, adding that the council is resisting for unknown reasons.

After the survey closes on August 31, the board will discuss the results in their next meeting.

“According to the board, they will consider the three names to receive the most votes,” Vilar adds. “By mathematical obligation, one of the three Hispanic names will be in the lineup.”