Falls Church weighs changes to school names

As calls grow to change the names of Virginia public schools in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality, the Falls Church City School Board met Tuesday to consider some changes of their own.

Greg Anderson, the chair of the committee, said at the beginning of the work session, “I think we can all agree we’re in a unique moment in our nation’s history” as the board discussed public petitions calling for the renaming of George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, in line with the system’s policy on equity and inclusion. Both men were Founding Fathers, but also owned slaves.

“People across the country are looking to themselves, to each other and to their elected leaders in order to make the change that is needed,” Anderson said.

The board discussed when to begin the process of considering name changes — now or in the fall, when children are in classes and more people are engaged — as well as whether to hire a consultant to provide more historical context on the two men.

A new George Mason High building is being built, and is scheduled to open late this year or early next. Board members discussed whether a name change could be in place in time for the opening.

Jefferson is considered the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, but Board member Lawrence Webb said, “Those words didn’t have me or other people of color in their mind at the time.”

Board member Phil Reitinger said the issue remains complicated for residents and the board, but he welcomed the process.

“We are talking about two men who have mixed legacies — accomplished a lot, but clearly owned slaves, and that, you can’t really forget or, really, forgive,” he said.

It’s not clear when the school board will vote on the issue or what the next steps will be. The next meeting is scheduled in July.

Recently, the Prince William County School Board unanimously voted to change the name of two schools that memorialized Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report.

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