Manatee school board moves closer to renaming a new high school in Parrish

After a series of meetings, petitions and setbacks, the School Board of Manatee County will meet on Feb. 26 to rename North River High School, in Parrish, which is set to open in August. But one question remained on Tuesday afternoon: where would the meeting be held?

More than 2,000 people, according to online and handwritten petitions, would prefer some form of “Parrish High School.” Some residents feel their community is being forgotten, replaced by a generic name like “North River.”

Priscilla Trace, a county commissioner, reserved space at the Bradenton Area Convention Center — supposedly at no cost. In early January, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said the venue would actually charge for seats, electricity and other necessities.

Furthermore, it was unclear whether ongoing problems at the center would prevent the district from broadcasting its meeting to the community.

The superintendent had another update at Tuesday’s board workshop: the convention center would charge a fixed price of $1,000, and infrastructure problems still threatened the possible broadcast.

Anticipating a large crowd, board members accepted the conditions and decided to hold their Feb. 26 meeting at the convention center.

“If we don’t have a livestream, I don’t think that’s a deal killer, because we will have plenty of room for those who are interested and want to attend,” board member Charlie Kennedy said.

The board will review nominations and decide on a name at the upcoming meeting — the culmination of ongoing debates.

In an email sent to board members on Aug. 8, the Manatee County NAACP decried possible changes. Its president, Rodney Jones, highlighted pioneer Crawford Parrish, a slave owner in the mid-1800s.

But the town, residents argued, was named after a son of Crawford Parrish, and his family arrived after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Gretchen Fowler, president of the Parrish Civic Association, said the renaming effort was not about Crawford Parrish or any one person. It was about preserving the town amid rapid development in the area.

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On Aug. 14, less than a week after the NAACP shared its concerns, the school board held a meeting. Vice-Chair Gina Messenger began to consider alternatives for North River High, but the meeting was abruptly canceled after a battery leak forced an evacuation of the school district’s administration building.

The board again held a meeting one week later, when residents faced another obstacle. Two prominent developers, Pat and John Neal, were accompanied by attorney Andre Perron, who underscored the district’s policy on renaming schools.

The policy requires six months of discussion and community input before renaming a school.

Speaking at the Aug. 21 board meeting, John Neal said he made business decisions based on the board’s decision to name the school North River High. He and his father are developing North River Ranch, a large community in the Parrish area.

The board voted 3-2 — Scott Hopes and John Colon dissenting — to initiate the renaming process in accordance with district policy.

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Dave Miner, now the board’s chairman, then presented Resolution 2018-10 in late September. It passed unanimously, making way for a six-month period of discussion and community input, from the Aug. 21 vote to the meeting scheduled for Feb. 26.

With a planned tailgate and a push to fill the Bradenton Area Convention Center with 1,000 people, the meeting is sure to be lively, said Fowler, president of the Parrish Civic Association.

Fowler said she contacted businesses, sports teams and other local organizations to spread the word.

“We’re bringing out anybody and everybody we can find,” she said.

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