McKinley Administrative Center was buzzing on Monday night with a hot-button topic on the Newton Board of Education's agenda attracting several members of the public to comment on the issue — the naming of Lindley Hall.
Following an article on the segregation of basketball teams under former Newton High School coach Frank Lindley published by the Harvey County Historical Society earlier this year, and a similar article on Lindley in The Kansan, multiple board members commented on the issue and suggested having a conversation about his namesake building, which currently serves as the gymnasium for Santa Fe 5/6 Center, though it was noted this was not the first time the issue was brought to the board's attention. Board member Angela Becker then officially requested an item be placed on the agenda at the school board's last meeting.
With that invitation, citizens showed up in droves to comment on that particular item at the BOE meeting on Monday — with many residents expressing split feelings surrounding the naming of Lindley Hall.
Floyd Edwards, pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church and a lifelong Newton resident, said that he is troubled by the naming issue and either way — through action or inaction — the district and school board would be picking a side. However, he also noted that it would be a "disgrace" to say Lindley did nothing good for Newton — he collected multiple state championships during his coaching tenure — or that he was solely to blame for the lack of desegregation on the basketball team, as he coached in an era when that was commonplace, although other NHS team were desegregated.
Quite frankly, Edwards admitted he did not envy the school board's position and wished it luck in coming to a decision regarding the naming of Lindley Hall that would find a way to preserve and honor the history of its namesake. Other citizens, however, were not as quick to separate the man from the history he was a part of and called for more direct action.
"Personally, when you name a place, that person should have some character," said former NHS wrestling coach Jack Thaw.
"What message are we sending our children by keeping the name of a coach who, if it had been up to him, wouldn't have allowed a growing number of Newton students to be part of the Newton teams because of the color of their skin? We need to stand together as a community and assert that, despite a history that we know we cannot change, we will no longer tolerate racial discrimination — nor should we honor those who did," said Monica DeLeon. "For that reason, I support the name change of Lindley Hall."
The issue of changing history was brought up by many Newton residents in opposition to a potential renaming of Lindley Hall. They argued that would erase the positive history associated with the former coach, and that judging Lindley by current principles was unfair, while others questioned what rabbit hole that could lead the district down.
"We like to throw away the past and think that what we're dreaming of in the future is going to be a whole lot better. I don't think we can throw away the past and make the future better," said Richard Deschner.
"This is a slippery slope that you're getting into," said Paul Vega, one of the first Mexican Americans to start for NHS basketball. "What happens next? Where does it end?"
After hearing public comment on the issues, the board openly discussed the naming of Lindley Hall itself, with board members split on the issue as well.
Some board members were more focused on the education element — bringing the issues of Lindley's past to light and learning from that — rather than the idea of outright changing the name of the gymnasium.
Other members of the Newton BOE saw value in that, but also questioned the message it sends to students if Lindley's name continues to appear on a prominent district building.
"I think that it's time that we have a conversation as a community about what our values are. You're name being on a building sends a message to the community about what you value and I think we need to have a discussion about whether some of the segregation practices that coach Lindley upheld are values that we want to honor," Becker said. "When you know better, you do better. I think now we know better and we need to do better."
Like the public, board member Jennifer Budde raised issues with the idea of applying current principles to situations from the past and board member Matt Treaster raised issues with the idea of erasing history through renaming a district building, which was built in 1934 and labeled with signage in 2008.
In terms of next steps, there was plenty of call for the community to be involved, but it was noted these types of issues are not typically put to a public vote. With no action needed, it was proposed to mull over options until the second meeting of October — given the weight of the discussion.
"None of these things are simple, that's something we need to keep in mind. "To put things from history in context takes effort," said board member Steve Richards. "This is an important conversation for us to begin."
In other business, the Newton BOE:
• Approved a resolution to confirm and ratify BOE member appointment and past actions (relating to Allen Jantz).
• Approved the consent agenda, including supplemental contracts and a child nutrition and wellness agreement.
• Learned a joint meeting between the city, county, school board and Newton Recreation Commission has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Meridian Center.
• Approved gift requests of $500 from Walmart to RaileRobotics, $5,000 from Millennium Machine and Tool to the NHS Machining Program and $135 from Walmart to the Opportunity Academy (for calculators).
• Approved the building site council members and meeting dates for 2019-2020.