The decision came after months of debate that involved two separate public hearings and an independently conducted survey that garnered more than 3,000 responses.
Emphasizing the care they took to consider different perspectives, the seven school board members ultimately agreed that Falls Church City Public Schools should adopt new monikers for its elementary and high schools in recognition of its goal to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for all.
“I’m in support of changing the names of our elementary and high schools, because if one student feels uncomfortable walking into a building named for a person who did not respect the dignity of another human being, that’s one too many,” School Board Member Lawrence Webb said.
The school board launched an effort to consider whether to rename Mason and Jefferson on June 30 after some community members started advocating for the changes in response to the protests against racial injustice and police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s murder in May.
During two hour-long public hearings in October, community members weighed Mason and Jefferson’s legacies as key figures in the formation of the U.S. against the pain they inflicted as slaveholders. Falls Church’s history of excluding Black people, the impending completion of a new George Mason High School campus, and the cost of renaming the schools also came up.
FCCPS estimates that renaming Mason would cost $96,760 and renaming Jefferson would cost $13,500. The school system also spent $8,500 to hire the consultant K-12 Insight to administer a public survey on the topic.
Presented to the school board on Nov. 17, the survey of students, staff, parents, and the general community found that 56% of respondents preferred to maintain the status quo, while 26% supported a name change for Mason and 23% supported one for Jefferson.
School Board Chair Greg Anderson noted that the survey was just one avenue used to solicit public feedback.
“The survey wasn’t a referendum or a generalizable, statistical, random sample of public opinion,” Anderson said. “…The survey was informative, but not decisive on its own and should be viewed as information.”
Now that the name changes have been approved, FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan will be accepting nominations for advisory study committees that will recommend new names to the school board. The board will announce the timeline for that process at an upcoming meeting, FCCPS says.
Anderson said the school board should continue to address inequity in education by reviewing FCCPS’s curriculum, hiring practices, and policies around diversity and discrimination. He also suggested developing a public space to educate people about Mason and Jefferson as well as the City of Falls Church’s history.
“Honestly, I’m not sure I know what this all looks like, but I think it’s an idea worth considering,” Anderson said.
Photo courtesy FCCPS