Snubbing Nevada’s veterans

Karen Gray

Is the Clark County Board of School Trustees hostile to everything military? Or is the board just averse to veterans?

The board recently cold-shouldered an offer of the unique privilege of having the nation's second Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps academy in Clark County. In 1990, the board changed the name of Memorial High School to Cimarron-Memorial High School because the district was naming schools with southwest themes. Today, the district and board of trustees continue to rebuff efforts to name a Veterans Memorial High School.

For almost two years, veterans and their supporters have been pressing the school board to name a high school in honor of Nevada's veterans. Phil Randazzo, president of the Nevada Benefits Foundation says he and other supporters of the idea are being strung along by the school board.

Initially, the group was told that letters from the community were required to get a school so named. The group submitted approximately 100 supporting letters, including messages from Nevada's U.S. senators, Harry Reid and John Ensign – only to be later told that the letters weren't enough, and that in-person testimonials were also necessary.

After bringing 50 families to a September 2007 meeting of the board's school naming committee, veterans and supporters left disappointed yet again. Despite following committee guidance and bringing speakers to the meeting, supporters were now told that school district policy prohibited the naming, but that changes to policy were being made. Certainly, this would have been beneficial information for the board to have shared nine months prior.

Trustee Terri Janison was quoted on KLAS-TV's website as saying, "The way the policy is stated is right now, which School Naming Committee has to adhere to the current policy, we really weren't allowed to by law to name it Veterans Memorial High School."

At the time, September 2007, the school naming committee – which is charged with accepting and reviewing nominations and making recommendations to the full board – was made up of trustees Janison, Sheila Moulton and Mary Beth Scow.

Moulton reportedly said then that she wanted what is now East Career & Technical Academy to be named "Veterans Memorial East Career & Technical Academy," but was told by CCSD attorney Bill Hoffman that such a designation violated policy.

Hoffman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal it would take about six to eight weeks after the naming committee's recommendation for the school board to approve a change in naming policy.

However, it actually ended up taking more than a full year to get that policy change into place, which finally occurred on Oct. 2, 2008.

Yet, once again, the veterans were disappointed.

This time, board members inserted a shield into the policy – in which they passed the buck to students.

Under the new rules, selected students recommend one school name to the naming committee for referral to the board. And on Nov. 6, 2008, Veterans Memorial High School was again passed over. A new high school located within the zoning of Nellis Air Force Base, the students said, should instead be named "Sunrise Mountain High School."

The school district offered (sort of) to name a new technical school Veterans Memorial Central Career & Technical Academy. While on the surface that may seem a victory for Nevada veterans, one interpretation of the new school naming policy actually prohibits such a move.

The actual governing text of the new policy reads: "High schools with primary emphasis on career and technical education will be called career and technical academies and will be named with a directional or geographical description of the location of the school."

Only comprehensive high schools can have a name that recognizes general historical or cultural values.

Clark County's school board appears to have a deep, unacknowledged aversion to anything military. That attitude actually conflicts with the board's own professed values as embodied in adopted policies, which say it is the goal of CCSD that "All students have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values necessary to achieve academically, prosper economically, and participate in democracy." All CCSD students, the policy goes on to say, will demonstrate positive character traits, including: citizenship, courtesy and respect, good sportsmanship, honesty and trustworthiness, kindness and caring, and responsibility.

What exemplifies these values better than the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, who dedicate and commit their lives to keeping America safe and free?

Do not former CCSD students Lance Cpl. Dale Earl Thompson, Lance Cpl. Raul S. Bravo, Army Spc. Anthony S. Cometa, and Pfc. Joshua S. Modgling – each giving the ultimate sacrifice for democracy – exemplify the values that CCSD seeks to instill in all its students?

Perhaps, one day, the Clark County school board will pay tribute to Nevada's veterans and recognize their own fallen heroes. Until then, the idea of a Veterans Memorial High School will remain a controversial one.

Karen Gray is an education researcher for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.