On Tuesday, November 12, the Milford Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a decision made on October 28, 2013 to add the name “Justice Randy J. Holland Campus” to Milford High School. Before the vote, Superintendent Phyllis Kohel read a short statement regarding the initial decision.
“The agenda for the October 28 meeting should have offered more detail and should have noted a proposed action so that the public was aware in advance of the discussion,” Dr. Kohel read. “There was no intention to change the name of the school, only the name of the ground the school sits on. The district would bear no cost for this change. There was an obvious miscommunication with some media outlets, and in the future, when decisions like this are made, an official press release will be forthcoming from my office. We apologize to anyone who was offended by this decision.” The vote to rescind the decision was unanimous. After the vote, the board opened up the meeting for public comment.
Representative Harvey Kenton, who, along with Tom Draper, presented the request to the school board on October 28, thanked the members of the community for getting involved, and agreed with Dr. Kohel that policies and procedures failed, but that he had been assured that those problems had been addressed. Representative Kenton insisted that there was never an intention to change the name of Milford Senior High School.
“I do not Twitter, I don’t use Facebook, and I do not blog,” Representative Kenton said. “But if I did any of those things, I, too, would have signed petitions against this decision if I thought the name of the school was going to be changed. It was never said that the name of Milford High School was to be changed, by Dr. Kohel, by Mr. Draper or by myself. This is an example of inaccurate journalism and the entire situation was blown out of proportion. The discussion brought to the school board was to honor a man who is one of the most prominent Milford High School graduates, a man who came from a blue collar family and has brought honor to the city of Milford, to Delaware and to the judicial system.” Representative Kenton continued that his intent when he came before the board was not to request a name change for the school, but to add Justice Holland’s name to the campus. Representative Kenton named many Milford alumni who have done great things for the city, the state and the country who were also worthy of recognition by the board, and suggested that a policy be instituted that would recognize all prominent Milfordians.
Tom Draper, owner of Draper Communications, whose holdings include WBOC-TV and Fox-21, and who presented the request to the board along with Representative Kenton spoke second. “The Milford High School name is sacred and that was never our intent,” said Draper. “Milford is one of only a few schools in Sussex County who did not consolidate with other towns, and we want to keep that historic name. What is important is the process, and the input of the public when these decisions are made. Randy Holland is a good guy, but there are plenty of other good guys out there.”
Members of the public expressed their concern about the decision as well. “I learned about this from my mother who read it on Facebook,” said Juliette Keesic, a sophomore at Milford High School. “We stand for Milford High School both academically and athletically, and I feel that students should have a right to vote on any change to the school, whether it is the name of the campus, the fields or the school itself.”
Patricia Marney, who was instrumental in starting a petition requiring the school board to revisit the decision, added that there was precedence set in 2009 when the board denied a request denying renaming a field at the school. In 2009, a petition circulated in Milford to rename the Milford High School Field Hockey Field in memory of Kelly Tyrrell Gill, a teacher and coach who died of breast cancer that same year. The petition was presented to the board in September 2009, not long after Ms. Gill died, and the decision was tabled. In November 2009, the board voted against renaming the field hockey field after Ms. Gill, despite the petition with 570 signatures requesting the change, instead choosing to rename the Night of the Arts the “Mrs. Kelly Tyrrell Gill Night of the Arts.”
“There have been other circumstances where the board came to the public and asked us to share our opinion,” said Ms. Marney. “One example is the name of Mispillion Elementary, a name that the public voted on. “Ms. Marney said that the request for the public to choose the name of a new elementary school, combined with the decision not to name the field hockey field after a beloved teacher and coach, sets a precedent for these types of things. She continued, “Mr. Holland seems to be a wonderful man, but there are other ways to honor him, such as dedicating a hallway, creating a Wall of Fame or even the dedication of the library.”
Paul Faulkner, a former school board member, had suggested earlier that the Milford High School Library be renamed after Justice Holland.
“I know Mr. Holland and he is an upstanding man,” Mr. Faulkner said. “However, Justice Holland is still a sitting member of the judiciary, and naming the campus after him could send the message that the district is attempting to draw favor with the judiciary in any future lawsuits that may arise. That being said, considering the level Justice Holland has risen to, I would imagine he spent significant time in the library, and I could understand renaming the library in his honor. We need to remember that there have been many great students in the past, and there will be many in the future.”
After public comment ended, Marvin Schelhouse, Board of Education President, stated that “no further action would be taken to name schools, grounds or facilities until a policy has been established through a public committee process.” The Board of Education voted unanimously to accept the motion.