School District of Lancaster eyes firms for upgrades

Edward Hand Middle School on South Ann Street.

A growing group of residents is urging School District of Lancaster to change the name of Edward Hand Middle School because of its namesake’s participation in slavery.

In response, the Lancaster school board has asked Superintendent Damaris Rau to develop a plan by mid-July to bring together students, parents, employees and community members together to brainstorm a new name for the 96-year-old school.

The call for action comes as schools and businesses nationwide face intense pressure to reevaluate their racially offensive names following the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.

“Why should we send Black and brown kids to schools like this ever again if we know we shouldn’t be doing this?” said Kearasten Jordan, a 2007 Hand graduate and author of an online petition to change the school’s name. “Why another year? There is no reason.”

State data shows more than 90% of Hand's student body is Black or Hispanic. 

More than 80 individuals have signed the petition. Jordan — who is co-director of Safehouse Lancaster, which provides resources to activists of color working to eliminate racism — said she wrote the petition after learning more about Hand’s history.

Hand, a Revolutionary War general, owned slaves at Rock Ford, his home-turned-museum in Lancaster. A Black man who was enslaved escaped from the 33-acre property shortly before Hand’s death in 1802.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, held virtually, Lancaster board members expressed support for a name change and emphasized the situation's urgency.

Board member Dave Parry suggested stripping the school of its current name before the upcoming 2020-21 school year.

“I think there’s a wrong here, but also an opportunity to correct that wrong and move the school district forward,” he said.

“I don’t think any of us have a doubt in our minds that this is the right thing to do,” board member Mara Creswell McGrann said about changing the school's name.

The board gave Rau until the board’s next meeting on July 15 to come up with a plan.

According to board policy, the superintendent can establish a committee made up of school board members, students, parents, employees and community members to help pick a new name.

She can establish a “temporary, generic” name — such as the street the school is on — until the board votes on a replacement, the policy states. If that’s what Rau decides, Hand could very well be called South Ann Street Middle School in the fall.

Several community members submitted comments requesting the board change the school’s name.

Lancaster NAACP President Blanding Watson suggested the district also should reexamine the district’s other school names. As did Rock Ford board of trustees President Pamela Stoner.

Stoner said in an email Rock Ford “supports the rights of the School District of Lancaster to name or rename its schools to reflect the needs of the community and its students.”

She added: “We hope that any decision that is reached follows a thorough study of Edward Hand’s life and times and that students take part in this research. Further exploration should include the histories of persons after whom other schools are named including George Ross, George Washington and James Buchanan, for example.”

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