A local school board voted this week to change the name of Henry Sibley High School, which is named after Minnesota’s first governor.
The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area School Board began the renaming process in early November. The board heard from community members, local historians and the district’s American Indian liaison, who shared the “perspectives she gathered from our American Indian families and students.”
“We received over 200 emails in support of the name change, we received approximately 20 emails against the name change, and there is about 10 additional emails that were more informational in nature, not advocating one way or another,” Superintendent Peter Olson-Skog reported.
In addition to being Minnesota’s first governor, Sibley was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota, a founding member of the Minnesota Historical Society, and a colonel during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
At the conclusion of the war, Sibley established a commission of military officers that sentenced 303 Dakota men to death, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
“The administration is directed to develop a process for creating new high school name
options for the board to consider. The options may include changes to the logo and mascot. The process will include estimated costs and a timeline to implement the change/s. The
administration will present this process to the board at a subsequent meeting for approval,” states the school board’s resolution, which passed unanimously in a 7-0 vote Monday night.
School board member John Chandler said “many current and former students and staff continue to feel marginalized and their voices are not heard.”
The decision to “change the name,” however, “doesn’t change the culture problems that we all are aware exist,” he added.
“Like many of you, I’ve been uncomfortable for years with the name of our high school, but I’ve always believed that a name change should be not imposed by the school board, but rather a grassroots effort led by our community. I believe we are now at the point where we are ready to embrace a name change,” school board member Stephanie Levine said during the board meeting.
“I want to be clear that a name change in no way erases history, and students should continue to learn about the complex legacy of Henry Sibley and the native inhabitants on whose land we now live,” she continued.
The school board has not officially decided on a new name. In choosing a new name, the resolution states that the board will consider whether a namesake “demonstrates good character” and “has made significant contributions or achievements.”
“We’re not trying to erase history,” said board member Byron Schwab. “This can be an opportunity to enhance history in many ways, but I think that our community is better than what we have right now, and if we’re not always looking at how we can improve, then we’re not really going anywhere.”