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The school formerly known as Henry Sibley High School will now be known as Two Rivers High School. The ISD 197 school board voted 5-1 at tonight’s meeting to rename the school after being presented with three options from the Naming Committee.
The name change conversation has been highly charged and controversial. A few people spoke during public comments opposed to the name change. After the vote was taken and a short recess was called, one of the people in the audience started shouting and arguing as he left.
Naming Committee Presentation
Three representatives from the Naming Committee and the facilitator shared the committee’s process and perspective. The 35-member committee was a wide cross section of the community, including people who were opposed to changing the name (one of the presenters admitted to opposing the name change). The representatives reported that it was a hard process with difficult and emotional conversations, but ultimately they were able to come together.
The name Two Rivers pulls on both the geographic location and proximity to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. The committee shared that there’s symbolism to two rivers coming together, combining the past and present, and moving forward together as one in unity.
“I really appreciated the idea of the river moving forward and joining together,” Board Member Maureen Ramirez said. “I appreciate that everyone in our district attends the same high school—two middle schools, but we come together.”
The Board Debate
The final names presented to the board were West Heights High School, Two Rivers High School, and Hillside High School. The first two had 75% support from the Naming Committee (as required) and Hillside didn’t quite achieve that threshold but the committee still wanted to present it to the board.
The board took a straw poll and Two Rivers had three votes, West Heights had two, and one voted for none.
Board Member John Chandler was the sole vote against the name change. He said he wouldn’t support any change and wanted more time for the community.
“I can’t vote for any of the names,” Chandler said. “It would feel much better if we had greater consensus.” He argued for more time and opportunity for the community to weigh in.
Board Members Terry Stamman, Ramirez, and Joanne Mansur argued that this issue has had plenty of time and they’ve heard plenty of opinions. Ramirez said she wasn’t sure how more time would move anyone from opposing the name change entirely to supporting a new name.
Board Member Byron Schwab advocated for West Heights, but changing it to Westan Heights to include Eagan. That argument didn’t sway anyone.
Board Member Brenda Corbett was absent from the meeting, though Schwab indicated she supported Two Rivers (Board Chair Mansur noted Corbett wasn’t present and couldn’t vote).
The History of the Argument
There have been various movements to change the name of the school over the years, but this time the push gained traction after a public comment to the board last year. Then an online petition organized by current and former students, local residents, and members of the Dakota communities of Minnesota argued that, “While Henry Sibley is an important figure in Minnesota history, his actions against the Dakota people demonstrate a character unsuitable to honor with the name of our school.”
Sibley, the first governor of Minnesota, played a key role in the 1862 conflict with the Dakota. In November, the board heard a presentation from Kevin Maijala and Dr. Kate Beane from the Minnesota Historical Society and the district’s American Indian Liaison Allicia Waukau Butler on the perspectives she gathered from the district’s American Indian families (begins at about 5:46 in the online video).
The former City Pages, Star Tribune and Pioneer Press all covered the potential name change as the conversation continued. Opinions have varied, including Pioneer Press columnist Joe Soucheray using it as a launching pad for a rant against indoctrination and local writer and Sibley alum Bill Lindeke sharing his opinion along with a detailed history examining Henry Sibley. In May, the Minnesota Historical Society presented a conversation about Sibley’s life and influence, specifically exploring the name change.
The Process so Far
The renaming process officially started last fall with presentations to the board. The board voted unanimously in December to rename the school, noting that Henry Sibley did not meet district policy for naming buildings, specifically that he did not exhibit good character. The administration then formed a 35-member Naming Committee charged with gathering community input and making two to three name suggestions to the board. The Naming Committee had very specific guidelines, including not changing the ‘Warriors’ mascot, not naming the school after a person, and not going back to Henry Sibley as a name.
The community input process started with a survey asking for name suggestions—more than 200 were received. The Naming Committee then culled the suggestions down to five names that they presented to the community for further input. They received feedback through an online survey (with more than 4,000 responses), two community-wide input meetings (fewer than 25 people attended between the two meetings), and multiple meetings with specific groups (students, parents, staff, etc.).
Changing the name to Two Rivers is expected to cost between $85,000 and $175,000. Some of the expenditures are already in the budget, so the cost is relatively lower (changing the mascot as well would have boosted the total cost to between $330,000 to $535,000). For example, with the new construction the name of the school hasn’t been added yet so there’s no additional cost compared to not changing the name.
The range of costs is due to how quickly the new name is phased in. For example, replacing all uniforms immediately would cost $115,000, but phasing them out over time wouldn’t add any extra cost as uniform replacement is already a budgeted item and would be spent anyway regardless of the name change.
ISD 197’s total budget for the 2021-2022 school year is $95 million.
The board didn’t discuss implementation at all. It will be up to the administration to work out the details of changing the name to Two Rivers High School.
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