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Results shared from TF South student survey on “Rebels” nickname

Student opinion leads District 215 Board to vote on name change on August 25

By Jennifer Yos

LANSING, Ill. (August 23, 2020) – At its August 12 Committee of the Whole meeting, the District 215 School Board shared the results of the July 21st TF South student survey regarding a “Rebel” name change for TF South High School.

70% of the student survey respondents indicated they are in favor of a name change, and 30% indicated they are not.

The survey

According to the district’s Public Relations Officer Dominique Newman, a total of 325 students responded to the survey, which is approximately 25% of the students that received the survey link. Active students in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes of 2020-21 were sent the survey, and each student received a unique link so that individuals could only respond once. A demographic breakdown of the survey respondents was not collected.

The survey included the following letter from TF South Principal Jake Gourley to the students and a single yes/no question:

Dear Student,

As you are likely aware, as our society pushes through these tumultuous times, attention has been called to brand names and team names that have historically racist origins or connotations.

When T.F. South was founded in 1958, the pun was that the “South” had seceded from the “North.” The imagery adopted by the new South campus was that of a confederate soldier, the confederate battle flag, and the nickname “Rebels.” The nation was about to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War and the topic was on the mind of the whole country.

In the mid-1990s the confederate flag was removed from the campus and by the mid-2000s all confederate soldier icons were stripped from the building because they were deemed to be offensive to African-Americans.

Today’s connotation associated with the nickname “Rebels” is that of standing up to authority or being involved in a political uprising and any confederate associations have been removed. However, it has been brought to the attention of the District 215 Board of Education that some students have concerns about the roots of our school nickname. Even though the flag and the soldier have been removed many people consider the name to be racist because it was associated with these confederate symbols. To further inform the Board about how current T.F. South students feel about the issue, please respond to the question below by Friday July 24, 2020 at Noon.

Thank you for voicing your opinion on this matter. I hope you and your family are doing well during these unprecedented times in our nation’s history.

Jake Gourley
Principal, Thornton Fractional South High School

Do you support changing the school nickname to something other than “Rebels?”

  • Yes
  • No

The process

The “Rebel” name is printed in massive letters above TF South’s front office. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

A proposal for a name change can be traced back to 2017, when a TF South student, Mia Pettigrew, sent a letter to the school’s former superintendent Dr. Creg Williams, and shared with him an essay she had written in her Government class arguing against the school’s continued use of the name “Rebel.”

This year, amidst the heightened social awareness brought by the current Black Lives Matter movement, Board Member Richard Dust requested an agenda item to survey the TF South students regarding a name change to be added to the June 23rd Board of Education meeting. The Board discussed the details of the survey at the July 15 Committee of the Whole Meeting, and subsequently the survey was sent to students the morning of July 21st. The results of the survey were shared at the Aug. 12 Committee of the Whole meeting, and board members positively concurred with the survey results. The resolution is included in the board packet for August 25’s meeting. The resolution the board will be voting on is below:

WHEREAS, Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 is committed to an overall culture of equity with the guiding principle of learning environments that are welcoming, positive and inclusive, where all students and stakeholders feel a sense of belonging and purpose in school;

WHEREAS, [District 215] acknowledges that the Thornton Fractional South High School nickname “Rebels” originated from a reference to the Confederacy and was coupled with the Confederate flag and a Confederate soldier as mascot of the school;

WHEREAS, [District 215] acknowledges that imagery associated with the Confederacy has racist connotations;

WHEREAS, [District 215] is committed to ensuring its schools provide safe and welcoming spaces where all students are able to focus on their education, secure in the knowledge that their safety and emotional well-being will be supported, regardless of race or ethnicity;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Education of [District 215] dissolves the Thornton Fractional South High School nickname “Rebels”.

If the resolution passes, the District 215 School Board will begin discussing the process of changing the name at the September Committee of the Whole meeting.

The full agenda and board packet for the August 25 meetings is available here. School District 215 Board meetings are open to the public via Zoom. The link for the Zoom meeting is included in the board agenda document.


D215 Board approves student survey of Rebels as TF South team name

Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos grew up on Walter Street in Lansing with nine siblings. She attended St. Ann’s School and T.F. South, and she earned a BA in the Teaching of English from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a MS in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Francis, Joliet. For 34 years she taught English, as well as Creative Writing and Drama, at Lincoln-Way High School. She dabbled in freelance journalism for the Joliet Herald News Living section. Now retired, Jennifer appreciates the opportunity to write for The Lansing Journal and is uplifted by the variety of positive people she has already met who are making a difference in Lansing.


  1. Why were only students surveyed? Grads from past years with year books, diplomas ect. have no say? Are we to erase our memories of being students at T.F. South?

    • Thanks for your comment, DMT. The Lansing Journal reported on some of the initial discussions the board had on the name change in late June. The link to that story is now included at the end of this story and can also be viewed here. The idea of surveying TFS alumni came up during those discussions. The relevant portion of the article is below:

      Board member Roger Yochem felt that former students should also be included in the survey. Since many alumni support the school and are still connected to it, he expressed an obligation to hear from them.

      Revis disagreed. “I’m only concerned about students who are currently in our charge,” she said. “We are responsible for creating a school climate, and this name has not been helpful at all.” Revis believes the decision should be made in direct response to student voices, not as a Board mandate, and she does not want the voice of the current population to be “drowned out” by the voices of generations of alumni. “The students should have the opportunity to discuss it and own it, and own what their school is called,” she added.

  2. 75 % of the students that received the survey didn’t respond. I assume this was not an issue to them.

    About 230 students didn’t like the name out of 1300 students that received the survey.

    I think this is a Board issue more then a student issue and the Boards attempt to be politically correct. Let’s forget the schools history and traditions

  3. That’s democracy at its worst. I graduated in 1967. I will forever be a proud REBEL. 325 students, not even a quorum ,and not old enough to vote in the real world voted to erase almost 60 years of tradition. Here is an idea, poll the 15,000 or so students who are proud REBELS and see the outcome for that. History is history. I have NEVER heard one person say that the word REBEL was designed to be racist.

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