Groundbreaking ceremony on the New Hug High School Reno Gazette Journal
The naming of Hug High for civil rights activist and school counselor Delores Feemster or for Sparks state Sen. Debbie Smith is up for a possible decision by the Washoe County School Board on Tuesday.
The decision is in the hands of the seven school board trustees, who have struggled to decide on which woman the school should be named for despite almost voting on naming the school for Feemster in November.
The naming of Hug for either Feemster or Smith, both who have passed away, comes after the school board voted in November 2019 to name its newest flagship high school under construction at Wildcreek Golf Course for Proctor Hug, since the students zoned for Hug will now attend the new school.
Not an easy decision
That left the original Hug in northeast Reno, which will be turned into a career and technical academy, up for a name change.
But the decision has been far from easy.
Both are deserving, board members have said.
Family members of Feemster and Smith have said the decision has been dragged out for too long and have accused board members of mishandling the process.
Smith’s daughter Erin Smith said that the board gave the naming committee the information to decide, which was done.
“There has been a lot of input and thought behind what the naming committee decided, so not to honor that decision, doesn’t make sense,” she said in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal earlier this year.
It had previously submitted Smith as its top choice and ranked Feemster as a second choice.
When it was again sent back to the committee by the board, it returned Smith as its sole choice, removing Feemster’s name.
Adrienne Feemster, who is a spokesperson for the family’s fight to name Hug for the matriarch of her family, said the process has not been fair. She is Feemster’s granddaughter.
“The board was ready to vote to name it for Delores Feemster and was only looking for other options for another site or school for Debbie Smith,” she said.
She filed a complaint with the school board, leading to an internal investigation. The district said an investigation found no wrongdoing in the process.
In November, the school board waited to vote on naming the school as it wanted information on possibly naming the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology for Smith. It also discussed naming the school for both women or naming a future school for Smith but decided against both options after public input.
Feemster, who died in 2018, was a long-time counselor at Hug and raised her family and grandchildren less than a mile away. She was considered a civil rights activist, who helped guide many students and other leaders in the community.
Smith, who died of brain cancer in 2016, was a well-respected leader who is credited with spearheading education legislation including WC-1, the school bonds bill, which helped provide money for new construction of schools in Washoe County including what will be a makeover for the Hug school site as it is transitioned into a career and technology high school.
WCSD Chief General Counsel Neil Rombardo said earlier this year when asked about an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by the board, “It is further inappropriate to call into question the difficult decision the Board of Trustees has yet to make regarding naming the Career & Technical Education Academy at the current Proctor Hug High School. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the Board of Trustees struggled in deciding between two great female leaders in our school district and in our county. To allege any inequality is simply inappropriate and not supported by the actual evidence.”
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
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