School leaders in Alexandria, Virginia, have begun the process of considering a name change for the city’s only high school — T.C. Williams.
The decision comes after a petition from community members urging the name be dropped, since its namesake Thomas Chambliss Williams was a pro-segregationist.
“We condemn this name of a racist,” said board member Christopher Suarez, who introduced a motion that allows the school system to officially consider giving the school a new name.
Board member Michelle Rief said she realizes some people may associate the school’s name with desegregation efforts because of the school’s 1971 integrated football team that was made famous by the movie “Remember the Titans.”
“Superintendent T.C. Williams was, in fact, somebody who supported segregation, and I really think that runs counter to our values,” Rief said.
The board voted unanimously for the motion, which doesn’t mean the name will change, but instructs the school superintendent to develop a plan for engaging the community and students about a possible name change and presenting the board of education his recommendations on the matter next spring.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to open this up as a robust process that allows as many constituents as possible to chime in because, whether we want it to be or not, it is a controversial issue,” said board member Meagan Alderton.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings plans to present the board with a game plan for the community engagement process in August. This fall, the community will get a chance to weigh in on a possible name change.
Hutchings said he hopes to keep on track with the timeline, but the COVID-19 pandemic could slow things down.
“Our goal is that once we know that our students are safe, and our students are in our schools, and we have our plans, and they are solidified, that we are willing to go full speed ahead,” Hutchings said.
While all board members were on board with launching a formal process into possibly changing the school’s name, several board members expressed concern about juggling both the name change issue and planning for the fall amid the pandemic.
“I just think we need to provide the superintendent and school division the head space to be laser-focused right now on how to open schools in the fall,” board member Veronica Nolan said.
On the other hand, board member Jacinta Greene said she wants to see the process happen sooner rather than later.
“I do believe this process can be done faster. If it’s truly what we want to do and what we believe in, it can be done fast,” Greene said.