Fairfax County School Board vice chairman and Mason District Representative Sandy Evans introduces the school name change policy revision at the Board’s Dec. 17 meeting.
Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools
The Fairfax County School Board did not change any names of schools at its Dec. 17 regular business meeting.
Though numerous student and adult advocates in attendance spoke in support of changing the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, named for a general in the Confederate Army, to Thurgood Marshall High School, that’s a future conversation the members of the board intend to have with the community.
What the board did vote on, unanimously, is a revision to the school system’s facilities policy on naming, section 8170.5. Previously, the policy allowed for a name change only if the use of the facility was changing, say for a former high school transitioning to a middle school. The update adds the language “a compelling need” as a condition allowing the board to act.
Vice Chairman and Mason District representative Sandy Evans introduced the motion for the policy change. “This modest revision would enable the School Board to change the name of a school if the School Board deemed there was a good reason to do so,” she said.
STUDENTS from Stuart High School, as well as other advocates including Shirley Ginwright, president of the Fairfax County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have spoken at School Board meetings and been petitioning in support of changing the school’s name to honor Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American United States Supreme Court justice, who has ties to the area.
“We’re really excited about it,” Ginwright said in an interview after the vote. She’s been collaborating with a student group at Stuart for about five months after they reached out to her. Together, they’re promoting a national petition on Change.org for Stuart to become Marshall.
“Now we have to get it on the agenda,” Ginwright said about the actual name change, “and continue keeping it on the forefront. What really impressed me was how eloquently these students speak, how well it’s done. I think it impressed the School Board as well.”
Braddock District representative Megan McLaughlin cited the recent decision by the Georgetown University community to change the names of Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall, each named for former presidents of the institution who were involved with the sale of slaves in the 1830s.
“I think that’s pretty remarkable,” McLaughlin said in an interview. “We owed it to our community to enable those types of conversations to occur.”
Though Board members all voted in support of the policy change, several voiced concerns about the door it opens.
CHANGING THE NAME of Stuart to Thurgood Marshall “will enable us to achieve two goals,” said at-large Board member Ted Velkoff, “repudiating the racism and segregation that was in Virginia in past, present and future, and second to honor the contributions of Thurgood Marshall as a Fairfax County resource to combat and eradicate those things.”
“I hope you can be wary of conflating specific potential changes with these two goals,” Velkoff continued. “If it’s Stuart but not [Robert E.] Lee [High School], there’s going to need to be an explanation. Civil War history is complicated.”
“I want us to be very careful,” said Springfield District representative Elizabeth Schultz. “Where do we stop the unraveling of the sweater? James Madison didn’t release slaves on his deathbed in his will. Are we throwing out James Madison’s name as well? What’s the cost, what’s to be gained? I’m very trepidatious of acting on something other than a policy change itself.”
Velkoff and Schultz each brought up George C. Marshall High School, also in Falls Church, as a potential issue. “There are more complications than solutions with two Marshall High Schools,” Schultz said.
“This is the easy part, the hard part is going to be the next conversation,” concluded Chairman Pat Hynes. “It’s up to the community. This policy allows us to have those very important community conversations.”