The results of a recent survey on whether to rename Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School triggered surprise, anger, and tears during a Falls Church City Public Schools School Board meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 17).
A majority of respondents — 56% overall — support keeping the names Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, two key historical figures from Virginia who publicly supported an end to slavery, while privately enslaving Black people. For George Mason, 26% support a name change, and for Thomas Jefferson, that population is 23%. The rest had no opinion.
K12 Insight, a consultant hired by the school board, surveyed parents, staff members, students in grades 6-12, and community members from Oct. 14 to 28 to gauge whether they want to see new names for the schools. For both schools, three-quarters of the community members who responded wanted to keep the names, and the margins were smaller for parents, students, and staff.
The discussion to rename the schools began on June 30. With the survey results back, school board members have scheduled a vote on whether to move forward with the name changes for Dec. 8.
Those who support changing the names cited the fact that the men participated in slavery and urged the school to embrace social change and support students who may feel marginalized.
Those who voted to keep the names responded that slavery was a norm at the time that should not disqualify these men from being honored.
School Board member Lawrence Webb, the only Black person on the board, said during a work session on Tuesday that he was surprised by the results of the survey.
“There are a lot of folks who are progressive and supportive of community relations,” he said. “I’m sort of bothered by how folks have couched this conversation of ‘This is something that was acceptable at the time.'”
Webb disagreed with those who characterized a school name change as a waste of resources. The amount of money would be “nominal,” and for George Mason, the timing would coincide with an ongoing project to build a brand new high school.
According to FCCPS, renaming George Mason would cost an estimated $96,760, and renaming Thomas Jefferson would cost around $13,500. The K12 Insight survey cost $8,500. Read More