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Detroit renames school honoring Ben Carson, removing honor for Trump appointee

ben carson
East English Village Preparatory Academy and Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine will be getting new names. (lev radin / Shutterstock.com)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters


The Detroit school board struck a compromise between students at East English Village Preparatory Academy and the alumni of the closed Finney High School, in a debate over whether to change the former’s name. 

The school, which sits on the grounds that once housed Finney High, will now be named East English Village Preparatory Academy at Finney.

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The board voted 5-2 to change the name, rejecting an administrative recommendation to keep the name as is.

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Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he recommended keeping the name because 59 percent of the students who responded to a survey were opposed to a name change at the school. But he acknowledged that overall, 80 percent of the 1,500 people surveyed — alumni, students, parents, staff, and community members — said they want the school renamed Finney High. The alumni voice has been strong throughout the debate leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

“This recommendation was a difficult one, probably one of the most difficult ones I’ve been involved in,” Vitti said. “On the one hand, I believe in history. I believe history should always be recognized, and that there’s an opportunity to make up for the mistakes of the past.” 

But he said he was uncomfortable recommending a name change when most students who completed the survey were opposed to it. 

Board member Sherry Gay-Dagnogo suggested a compromise, blending the two names into one.

“We don’t want to do the same thing to students that was done to the alumni,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “But erasing history is really criminal.”

The discussion was part of a broader effort by district officials and community members to revisit naming decisions that were made when the district was overseen by state-appointed emergency managers, sometimes without community input. Last school year, at the urging of alumni, the board approved a decision to restore the name of Northwestern High School, which had been renamed the Detroit Collegiate Preparatory Academy at Northwestern in 2013 under an emergency manager.

Keenann Knox, senior pastor of Detroit’s Impact Church and a 1989 Finney alum, was critical before the vote of Vitti’s recommendation to favor the student voice.

“We’re told to let our voices be heard. Overwhelmingly, 80 percent of the people said to change the name,” Knox said. The recommendation, he said, sent a message that “80 percent wasn’t good enough.”

Also Tuesday night, the board approved changing the name of the Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine to Crockett Midtown High School of Science and Medicine. The push to change the name came as its namesake — a renowned neurosurgeon — courted controversy during his tenure as housing secretary in the Trump administration. There was no debate about the name change at Tuesday’s meeting. An overwhelming majority of students, alumni, staff, parents, and community favored a name change.

The new name recognizes Dr. Ethelene Crockett, the first African American woman in Michigan to become board certified in obstetrics and gynecology.

Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at lhiggins@chalkbeat.org.

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