The elementary school in Tampa Heights, Florida has burnt to the ground.
Recently a target of the social justice movement to remove Confederate statues and symbols from around the nation, Robert E. Lee Elementary has found itself in flames as it burned to the ground Tuesday night while hundreds of residents witness while children cried.
“Lord have mercy, Jesus,” said Erica Claitt, whose 9-year-old niece attended the school until recently. “It’s a historical school.” (Related: Trump Right Again: Black Lives Matter protesters in Charlottesville cover Thomas Jefferson statue)
A status symbol since it was built in 1906 was the home of 330 students and 49 staff workers. Thankfully no one was occupying the building as it was closed in preparations of the impending hurricane.
Tampa Bay emergency officials reported they found heavy smoke and flames coming out of the north side of the school all the way through the roof. They stated so far the fire doesn’t look suspicious though the investigation is not concluded. (Related: VIDEO Nancy Pelosi’s Father Dedicated Confederate Statues to Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson)
“We have investigators on scene, the fire marshal,” a fire spokesman said, “but I want to make something very, very clear — because I know that in our atmosphere this can be contentious but indications now have nothing to do with the name of this school.”
Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said the first firefighters to arrive quickly called in more units.
“When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke and flames coming out of the north side roof of the building,” he said. “They started fighting the fire and the incident commander immediately decided that they needed to call a second alarm to bring in more units — in particular, aerial units, because this is a three-story, brick building.”
More fire units responded. But then the roof collapsed on the northeast side of the building, and the incident commander decided to pull back the firefighters and go into “defensive” mode to contain the blaze.
Penny said the fire did not appear to be suspicious, but the investigation had not yet started.
Tarance LeNoir, a teacher and a candidate last year for Hillsborough County School Board, was among those watching the blaze.
“I’m just concerned about all the children,” he said. “They already missed school (for Hurricane Irma) and now they’ll have to be displaced again.”
The fire began a few hours after district leaders, who had hoped to reopen schools this week, decided they couldn’t be ready until Monday. Now, on top of restarting classes for the nation’s eighth-largest school district, they will need to figure out where to send Lee’s students. (Related: Majority of Americans want to preserve Confederate statues/monuments: Reuters/Ipsos poll)
“We have investigators on scene, the fire marshal,” Penny said, “but I want to make something very, very clear — because I know that in our atmosphere this can be contentious — but indications now have nothing to do with the name of this school.”
He said investigators were considering whether the fire could be linked to restoration of electrical power in the area.
The school district’s history of the building said it was built in 1906 by neighborhood volunteers. It was called Michigan Avenue Grammar School then, but renamed for the Confederacy’s most famous general in 1943, when the street was renamed Columbus Drive. It became Hillsborough’s first magnet school in 1993 with a focus on technology. The world studies program was added in 2008.
Claitt, like many in Tampa, was aware of the controversy surrounding the name. (Related: Gettysburg Has Released A Stunning Statement On Their Confederate Statues)
“It was named after an inappropriate person,” she said. “It should have been changed years ago.”
But the real problem, she realized, was more immediate: “Children need an education.”
Most in the area are aware of the recent controversy regarding the schools name. The more immediate concern is getting the children back to school.
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