Lewis Cass ISD board votes to change district name

CASSOPOLIS — After months of deliberation, the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District has decided to change its name. However, what its new name will be has yet to be seen.

Wednesday, the Lewis Cass ISD board met via Zoom. Among a list of several other discussion items was a resolution to accept a recommendation from a specialized committee to change the name of the ISD due to its association with Lewis Cass, a former territorial governor of Michigan. Cass ran for president in 1848 and served as secretary of war under then-President Andrew Jackson.

“This decision is based on a majority consensus of Lewis Cass’ role in the policy on the removal of Native Americans from their land and a unanimous consensus of his political position for southern states to continue with owning slaves,” reads a letter of recommendation from the committee regarding the name change. “We do not intend to rewrite or change the significance of Lewis Cass in Michigan history. Rather this recommendation is meant to acknowledge the importance of the Native American and African American community in Cass County.  Given the ISD’s role of providing educational services to all the children in Cass County, regardless of race, this change aligns with the ISD’s mission.”

The idea of potentially changing the name of Lewis Cass ISD has been on the board’s agenda since July. In late June, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer removed Lewis Cass’ name from a state office building due to evidence of him being a slave owner, supporting states’ right to choose whether or not to outlaw slavery and implementing policies under President Jackson that relocated and harmed Native Americans.

In September, the ISD board formed a committee to specifically look into whether or not a name change for the district was warranted. Superintendent Brent Holcomb said the committee was made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds and considered arguments both for and against a name change.

Skip Dyes, a committee member, said he believed a name change for the district would be more welcoming to students of all backgrounds.

“We are trying to remove all barriers,” Dyes, an African American man, said. “I think the name change is something that will be more inclusive of what the ISD is doing. Everyone will feel like they are a part of the ISD. All my life, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m outside of the group, and I thought it would be best if we could all feel included.”

Julie Dye, a fellow committee member and citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, agreed. She added that many members of the Pokagon Band had supported the move to change the ISD’s name.

“I’m emotional just talking about it,” she said.

Now that the ISD board has officially voted to change its name, the hard work of choosing what it will now be called is to begin. Several different names were tossed out during Wednesday’s meeting, including Prairie Heritage ISD and Prairie/Lakes ISD, with board members saying they wanted to choose a name that reflected both the history and geography of Cass County. Ultimately, the board decided to table affirming a new name until its next meeting in January.

“I’m sure we will have a lot of discussions over the next month,” said Kevin Anderson, ISD board president.

Once a new name is chosen and approved by the board, it must be submitted to and approved by the Michigan Department of Education before notifications of the name change can be sent to several agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service. While Holcomb said there is no official timeline in place for the name change, he said the process could last until the start of the fall 2021 school year.

“This is a process,” he said. “It is not going to happen overnight.”

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