Hand Middle School

Edward Hand Middle School in the School District of Lancaster. 

The Lancaster school board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to strip the name of Edward Hand Middle School, bowing to pressure from community members who expressed concern over the district’s school buildings being named after slave owners.

The change will take place following a survey of the school’s families regarding a temporary, generic name to replace Hand as the district goes through an official renaming process.

Families will likely decide between two temporary options in a phone survey next week, according to district Superintendent Damaris Rau: South Ann Middle School, named after the street on which the school is located, or South East Middle School.

The change comes amid lingering racial unrest nationwide following the death of George Floyd and mounting pressure on institutions — from businesses to schools to football teams — with racially insensitive names to rebrand themselves.

“We find that to be difficult at this point in time for our school buildings to be named after slave owners,” board President Edith Gallagher said during the meeting.

Hand, a Revolutionary War general, owned slaves at his Lancaster home, known as Rock Ford. A Black man who was enslaved escaped from the 33-acre property shortly before Hand’s death in 1802. Rock Ford, which is now a museum, recently removed “Plantation” from its name.

According to board policy, it could take the entire school year to settle on a new, permanent name. Rau and Lancaster school board member Robin Goodson will form a community group to solicit feedback on a new name. The board will ultimately decide on a replacement.

Stripping the name came as good news to many. More than 80 people signed a petition last month to remove Hand’s name from the school.

“During this time of civil unrest, it is critical that we rename a school that can better reflect the community and be representative of the person who was so impactful to the lives of so many students,” Lancaster resident Madra Clay, who suggested replacing Edward Hand with well-known School District of Lancaster educator Hazel I. Jackson, said in a submitted comment during the meeting.

Others, however, regarded a name change as an act of disrespect and an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.

“Spending the money to change a school name is unconscionable,” Daisy Myers, of Lancaster, wrote in. “There are so many needs that could be met for students that do not have the means or support. Spend wisely no re-actively!”