Ever since the Lee County School District awarded the MMM high school to the Gateway community approximately two years ago, residents have speculated what the school would be named. The overwhelming consensus in the Gateway High School Support Group page on Facebook was the nice and simple name of Gateway High School.
Mascot name debates happened a few times with options such as Gateway Gators and Gateway Golden Eagles being offered up. I chipped in with my personal favorite of Gateway Gladiators.
It came completely out of left field for the community when the News-Press published on August 27 that Lee County School District board member Melisa Giovannelli wanted to name the school after Martin Luther King Jr.
Later that day at the school district’s board meeting, Giovannelli attempted to take over the naming process and made a motion for the school board to name the school after MLK right then and there. The school district’s lawyer, visibly surprised to hear Giovannelli wanted the district to commit to a school name that evening, advised the board that if they ignored its entire school naming process it would be problematic.
The other board members took turns speaking one by one, and they all stated that they wanted to respect the policies and procedures involved in the school naming process. When it became obvious that Giovannelli’s motion to cut the Gateway community completely out of the process would fail by a 6-1 (or perhaps 5-2) vote, Giovannelli said with a straight face: “I respect community involvement.”
Keep in mind that she had just tried to circumvent any and all input from Gateway residents approximately 5 minutes prior to making that statement.
To some it seemed strange that Giovannelli, who doesn’t live anywhere near Gateway, would use her power to force the MLK school name on the new school. The Gateway Sun got wind that perhaps it was not Giovannelli’s idea at all, but rather a community activist named Anthony Thomas who had made the suggestion to Giovannelli, who then ran with it.
Those who monitor the LCSD closely know that Giovannelli revels is being a thorn in the side of the school district, so it wasn’t exactly a crazy theory. After-all, it was Thomas himself who provided the MLK suggestion email from Giovannelli to the News-Press. And Thomas was the first in line to address the board on this topic where he forcefully demanded the board members vote in favor of the MLK name on the spot, rather than allow the district to go through the naming process.
I reached out to Thomas to ask him if it was true that he was the individual who was ultimately behind all this. Thomas called the notion “absurd.”
The one thing I didn’t doubt was Thomas’ admiration and passion for Mr. King, so I asked Thomas if he had previously lobbied to get Bonita Springs High School named after MLK, and that if he wasn’t successful in Gateway if he would try to get a future school named in honor of King.
Thomas became argumentative and didn’t answer either question. He was acting odd so I persisted, starting with Bonita. He eventually grumbled that I should already know the answer. “You can’t find any record of any discussion or any suggestions of anyone suggesting that Bonita high school be named after Martin Luther King. So this conversation is pointless,” Thomas said.
So the Gateway school is the first school he’s tried to have named after MLK. I circled back to the second part of the question and asked if he failed in Gateway if he would try to have the next school to be built named after Mr. King.
I asked that a total of three times, and all three times he dodged the question.
There would obviously be opportunities after Gateway and I told Thomas that I hoped he kept trying if he wasn’t successful, serving up a fourth opportunity for him to say he intended to. But Thomas seems to be focused on specifically Gateway’s school being named after Martin Luther King Jr.
He was impatient, I figured.
But when I thought the conversation was over, Thomas said, “What you should do and what your side should do is the tell the people the truth.”
“You want the school named after Robert E Lee and you want the mascot to be the Confederate flag.. But unlike your president you can’t tell people how you truly feel,” added Thomas.
Well obviously Thomas can tell people how he truly feels.
And… as I interpreted our conversation today… Thomas feels that the mostly white community of Gateway could use a lesson in racial tolerance. So in his mind, he’s going to provide the community that lesson by making sure Gateway has a permanent reminder of how racist they are by naming the largest complex in the community after an American civil rights leader.
Oh, and Thomas is also going to stop Gateway from choosing the Confederate flag as the school mascot. Which is good because going through all the logs in the high school supporters group on Facebook that idea came up how many times … let’s see … okay… so… exactly never.
At first I wasn’t even going to write this article because I didn’t want to spread the ugly opinions Thomas has about Gateway residents. But then I realized this all needs to be put on the record for all to see and for all time.
So if you’re reading this in the year 2031 as part of a research project to find out how the school district arrived at the decision to select the name “Martin Luther King High School”… know that it didn’t come from a place of respect, tolerance, inclusion and widespread community support as you were no doubt hoping and expecting, given its namesake…
Rather, it spawned from two people involved in local politics who attempted to hijack the process to name a new school in a community that neither of them even live close to … to impose their name idea on everybody else because one of them, in my opinion, feels the misguided need to teach the people of Gateway a lesson… and the other person saw yet another opportunity to utilize the local media to embarrass the district (on purpose, in my view), and shifting the district’s attention away from the children and on to herself – oh and by the way, doing her best once again to kill any positive momentum the Lee County School District ever manages to generate.