JENNINGS, La. (KPLC) - A tense meeting for the Jeff Davis School’s Building and Grounds Committee Tuesday night. The only item on the agenda was deciding what name for the new elementary school in Jennings to send to the full School Board for a final vote.
“The school itself is for the children that are in that school today," Donald Dees for District 5 said. "Both black and white.”
Voters passed an almost $30-million bond issue and sales tax to fund building a new elementary school and combining the students from both James Ward Elementary and Jennings Elementary back in March. The campus will be located across 20-acres off of LA 26 South.
Officials hope to begin the construction of the new elementary school by April 2020. They say it will take two years to complete.
Three names were submitted by the deadline: James Ward Elementary School, Jennings Elementary School, and Jennings Ward Elementary School. The names had to have received over 50 votes to be considered.
″James Ward Elementary, 227 signatures confirmed. Jennings Elementary, 195 confirmed," Phillip Arceneaux, for District 3 said. “The other one, Jennings Ward Elementary, 89.”
The committee explained it didn’t matter which name got the most votes, only that a name received more than 50 votes.
Those in favor of naming the new elementary school James Ward Elementary spoke on wanting to continue honoring the educator. James Ward, according to Superindent Kirk Credeur, was an influential educator who was well respected by the community.
“We have named our football stadium, our high school gym, after two outstanding pioneers of education," A resident said. "It would only be fitting if we were to maintain the name James Ward Elementary School after another prominent educator of our parish.”
“I have nothing to offer my children, my great-grandchildren, down the line for black items in Jennings because everything has been taken from us," A resident said. "If you take James Ward from me, what can I tell my next generation?”
Those in favor of naming the new elementary school Jennings Elementary spoke on wanting to keep the names of the schools in the city uniform.
“It is my personal belief that a school should not be named after an individual," A resident said. "How do you judge, how do you make one person more worthy than another? Jennings Elementary to me is very timeless, it’s very logical, it’s very classy.”
“All of the kids in Jennings will go there," A resident said. "I think it is only logical, and it removes the baggage of the old system. All of those schools that existed when we had the seven separate but equal schools are gone.”
Jeff Davis Superintendent Kirk Credeur spoke on how he was not surprised by the comments from the public, as when both schools were created it, was a different time in history.
“It brings up a lot of hurtful feelings and you could feel some of that at this meeting tonight,” Credeur said. “Some of the deep feelings some people have from history. They are still very real to these people. Back when there were separate schools for the white students and separate schools for the African American students at the end of the day, many of the African American schools were not of the same quality. They were not built the same quality, they did not have the same quality educational materials and it was absolutely wrong. It was a horrible time in our history. So there was a movement to change all that and the changes of all that has those deep feelings stirred up."
Credeur says while he doesn’t want to forget, he wants to move forward with creating one elementary school for Jennings.
“We want everyone to come together and get the best possible education that they can,” Credeur said.
In the end, a majority of the committee voted to send the name ‘Jennings Elementary’ to the full Jeff Davis School Board for the final vote at their November meeting.