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Mendota Heights high school will drop Henry Sibley from its name

The process to choose a new name is in the works.

A Twin Cities area high school will no longer bear the name of Minnesota's first governor. 

After months of lobbying from community members and alumni to change the name of Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area School Board voted unanimously on Monday to do just that. 

A new name hasn't been picked. The resolution the board approved directs the administration to develop a process for presenting new name options, with the option for a new logo and mascot, to the school board for consideration. This process will include estimated costs and a timeline to implement the changes. 

The draft process will be presented to the school board at a future meeting.

According to the Pioneer Press, the effort to change the name has been a months-long effort, with those in favor of dropping Henry Sibley from the school's name citing Sibley's treatment of the Dakota people as the reason.

Sibley, after his one-term stint as governor, was tapped to lead a military campaign against the Dakota people in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He established a military commission that sentenced 303 Dakota men to death and protested when President Abraham Lincoln commuted the majority of the sentences. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato in December 1862, marking the largest mass execution in United States history. 

The school board began discussing the potential name change in November, according to documents. And in the month since, Superintendent Peter Olson-Skog said the district has gotten more than 200 emails, with the majority favoring the name change, the Pioneer Press said. 

The criteria for naming school district facilities are outlined in district policy, which says the names "may reflect geographic locations, topographical character, or prominent persons of regional, state or national repute," documents state. The policy notes when considering using the name of a person, that person must demonstrate good character and have made significant contributions or achievements. 

The decision to change the school's name comes amid a broader debate about changing the names of buildings and landmarks that honor people with a past considered dubious by modern standards. 

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One of the most prominent efforts to do so was the years-long push to change Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis to Bde Maka Ska (the controversial name change was affirmed in a Supreme Court decision in May).

And the pressure to change the names of buildings has only increased amid the reckoning over racial justice in Minnesota and the U.S. following the killing of George Floyd in May. 

Since then, places like Calhoun Square and Calhoun Beach Club have dropped Calhoun from their names. (John C. Calhoun was the former vice president of the U.S. and senator who supported slavery and while he was the secretary of war, he formulated a failed plan to deport American Indians west of the Mississippi River.)

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