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Falls Church City Schools publishes proposed names for George Mason, Thomas Jefferson schools

The Falls Church City School Board will hear suggested new monikers for two schools during its meeting tonight (Tuesday).

Two committees tasked with renaming George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School have narrowed down hundreds of names to their top five, which were submitted to the school board on Friday (April 9).

The school board voted last December to move forward with a renaming process after hearing from members of the public on both sides of the issue.

“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 in December.

According to the committee’s final report, the top five contenders for the high school are:

  • Meridian High School
  • Metropolitan High School
  • Metro View High School
  • Tinner Hill High School
  • West End High School

Committee members said they considered names that reference places, ideas, or values, as well as “M” names and those with local connections or historical significance. It started with nearly 280 suggested names.

One name with some support that did not make the cut was Falls Church City High School. Falls Church High School already exists in the Fairfax County Public Schools system, though some recent letters to Falls Church News-Press indicate people hold a variety of opinions on which jurisdiction has a real claim to the name.

Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School could be renamed:

  • Mattie Gundry Elementary School
  • Oak Street Elementary Schoo
  • The Little City Elementary School
  • Tripps Run Elementary School
  • Truth and Justice Elementary School

The elementary school was originally a Fairfax County school named Oak Street School. When FCCPS became an independent school division, the name stayed, but when the city’s Jefferson Institute was demolished, the school board voted to adopt Thomas Jefferson’s name.

Tinner Hill and Mattie Gundry are the only suggestions with ties to people, which the committees flagged. FCCPS policy allows facilities to bear the names of people who have been dead at least 10 years, but some committee members say that they — or the people they represent — want to avoid possibly opening the school community up to controversy in the future.

Tinner Hill refers to Charles and Mary Tinner, who established a quarry in the area, and their descendent Joseph, who fought for civil rights and helped found the first rural branch of the NAACP.

“The committee raised concerns that selecting this name may be performative if not coupled with earnest work towards building equity in our schools and our community,” the report said. “Given the historical mistreatment of the Tinner Hill community, it is imperative that this name be considered as one part of a plan that will emphasize the value and respect due to the city’s African-American residents.”

The committee said it has spoken with members of the Tinner family who support the name for consideration.

“The Tinner Family expressed their gratitude and said that it is an honor that the Falls Church City community suggested the name of their family and their historic community represent the FCCPS high school,” the report said.

Gundry, meanwhile, was an educator who opened The Virginia Training School in 1899, making it the only school that served students with disabilities in the South. Some committee members expressed concern that future generations could determine that her school’s treatment of people with disabilities may not rise to modern standards.

Input on the monicker was also mixed because of a general disinterest in renaming the school after a different person.

“Feedback on this name was that we should avoid naming the school after a person,” the report said. “This name did not rank highly when students from three classrooms were polled.”

Full justifications and concerns for each name can be found in the reports.

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