Florida school named for Gen. Robert E. Lee destroyed
A massive inferno ravaged a Florida elementary school named for a Confederate idol Tuesday evening.
The blaze erupted at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tampa around 6:45 p.m. and caused the roof of the century-old brick building to collapse.
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Fire officials streamed video of flames and plumes of brown smoke spewing through the roof and windows. The facility was empty for the week due to Hurricane Irma, officials said.
The school was not being used as storm shelter.
Members of the Hillsborough County School Board had been trying to erase Lee’s name from the school for at least two years. The board’s lone African-American official renewed that push in June, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
More than half of school’s 300 enrolled students are African-American.
The rest of the board was slow to change the name even after U.S. municipalities rushed to take down Confederate statues in August, when a deadly car attack during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., left a peaceful protester dead.
The change would not have taken effect until 2018, the Times reported.
The 111-year-old Tampa school was renamed for the Civil War military leader in 1943 and is among dozens of education hubs named for the general. Officials in Columbia, Mo., and Port Arthur, Texas. were also considering striking all references to the racist idol as of late August.
Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins said students would be placed into another building for now.
“We are going to do everything we can for our families,” Eakins told reporters Tuesday night.
Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny told the paper nothing about the fire suggested the school’s name played a factor in the destruction. He noted that a fire probe would ultimately decide the cause.
He said investigators would explore if restoring power in the Tampa Heights neighborhood after the monster storm sparked the blaze, according to the Times.
The Gulf Coast city escaped much of Irma’s wrath but was slapped with widespread power outages and downed tree limbs.