George Mason High, Thomas Jefferson Elementary To Be Renamed

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FALLS CHURCH, VA — The Falls Church City School Board voted Tuesday to rename George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

The renaming process follows name changes to schools bearing Confederate names at other Northern Virginia school districts — Robert E. Lee High School in Fairfax County and Stonewall Jackson High School and Stonewall Middle School in Prince William County, to name a few. But the process at Falls Church City Public Schools brought into question whether the two schools should bear names of Founding Fathers who owned slaves.

School Board Chair Greg Anderson noted that the renaming process originated after nationwide protests against systemic racism. On June 4, Anderson said the board committed to actively promoting anti-racism and call out injustice, inequality and inequity on top of equity work the school district has worked on over last two years. Around the same time, there was a community push for both renaming and keeping the names of the two schools.

The school board initiated the renaming consideration process on June 30, which led to two public hearings, hundreds of public comments, and a survey to gauge public sentiment.

"There are many arguments made to support both viewpoints: the national historic moment, the opportunity presented by a new high school, and/or the fact that George Mason and Thomas Jefferson owned enslaved people, led some to advocate new names," Anderson told the school board. "While others argued that the contributions of the Founding Fathers to our nation, the impacts of COVID-19, the potential financial impacts of a name change and/or the need to finish other important work warranted either retaining the names or deferring the decision."

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The community survey conducted by independent research and communications firm K12 Insight found 26 percent of respondents supported a name change of George Mason High School, 56 percent were against a name change, and 19 percent had no opinion. For Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, 23 percent supported a name change, 56 percent were against it and 22 percent had no opinion. The survey generated 3,488 responses and was open to parents, staff members, students in grades six to 12, and community members from Oct. 14 to 28.

Anderson noted that K12 Insight's report on the results said the survey reflect the perceptions and opinions of only people who participated.

"The survey was informative but not decisive on its own and should be viewed as information," said Anderson. "Many people expressed surprise at those results, and that sparked a new wave of email comments. But also lots of community members, staff, students and others reaching out to board members personally to talk through their feelings on the survey, their opinions on the topic and expressed viewpoints that unfortunately could not be captured in the survey itself."

After the vote to rename both schools, the school board will now move to the second stage of the renaming process to determine new names. The superintendent will take individuals' nominations for an advisory study committee to the school board, which will recommend five names to the school board. The timeline for this work will be announced at an upcoming school board meeting.

According to the school district's Regulation FFA-R School Building Names Committee, the school board will gather input from the public regarding the renaming and will make the final determination. Name suggestions must be in writing, must state the name of the person or group making the suggestion and must state the reasons supporting the suggestion. Schools cannot be named for any living individual, and only names of individuals deceased for 10 years can be considered.

For future updates on the process, visit www.fccps.org/o/fccps/page/school-renaming.

This article originally appeared on the Falls Church Patch

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