Fairfax Co. considers renaming W.T. Woodson High School

Fairfax County Public Schools is scheduled to vote Thursday night on whether to move forward with a plan to rename W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia.

The school is named after Wilbert Tucker Woodson, the second-longest serving superintendent in the school system, the county said. He worked in the county from 1929 until 1961. 

However, he opposed desegregation as evidenced by remarks in historical documents, prompting community members to encourage Virginia’s largest school system to rename the high school.

In a letter to a school board member in 1959, W.T. Woodson said the “order to desegregate schools is highly improper and infringes on human rights.” FFXNow first reported the details of the letter. 

Last month, seven school board members sponsored a request to begin the process of changing the name, and to consider naming the school after Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who worked to inform the public about the role of African Americans in U.S. history. 

At a public hearing about whether the school system should proceed with a name change, several parents said changing the school’s namesake gives the county a chance to correct a previous mistake.

“We must change the name of W.T. Woodson High School, because segregationist names should not grace our children’s schools,” said Vanessa Hall, whose two children are students at the high school. “I’ve heard people say, ‘We didn’t know who he was.’ Well, I’m here to say that generations of Black families who were prohibited from attending any high school in Fairfax County knew.”

John Bartelloni, who said he’s a 1970 graduate of the school, said he doesn’t agree with Woodson’s views on race and integration but doesn’t support a name change. 

“Given his service in World War I and leadership during the consolidation era and post-World War II years, I ask the school board of Fairfax County not to tamper with the legacy of Mr. Woodson,” Bartelloni said. 

One parent recommended naming the school after a graduate, but Marsha Schindel urged the board to consider updating its policies so that schools are not named after people.

“We have many other ways to honor these people that won’t subject future generations to the kind of turmoil that we’ve gone through with this process,” said Schindel, who said she is a Woodson alumna. 

If the school board decides to move forward with the name change this week, the county will open an online feedback form to the public and hold a community meeting at the school. It would also host another public hearing later this month. 

A final decision on what to rename the high school would be voted on at a Nov. 9 meeting, the county said. 

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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