The Fairfax County School Board has approved a proposal to change the name of W.T. Woodson High School, which is named after a former superintendent who opposed school desegregation. Board members voted unanimously to change the name in a school board meeting Thursday night.
This vote was the first step in the process to rename the school, and the board will vote again later to determine what the new name will be. One main contender is to rename the school after Carter G. Woodson, a Black author, educator, and journalist known as the “Father of Black History.” Another potential change would drop the “W.T.” and rename the school Woodson High School.
The proposal to change the name was first raised in September, headed by board member Megan McLaughlin.
The school is currently named for Wilbert Tucker Woodson, a superintendent who led the school division from 1929 to 1961. While the proposal notes that staff, students, and alumni of the school have raised concerns regarding the school’s namesake for years, the effort to rename it gained traction when documents revealed his stance as a segregationist.
Among those documents is a memo, dated July 6, 1959, in which Woodson claimed “The order to desegregate schools is highly improper and infringes on human rights. To force integration of schools is to force social mixing, since attendance in public schools is usually compulsory.”
The proposal makes note of the school board’s policy that states it may consider a change in the name of a school or facility in order to ensure an “inclusive, respectful learning environment.”
“I think it’s time that we recognize that as a board, and a body, we understand how important it is to have names on a building that can inspire all students, and our staff, and our community,” McLaughlin said at Thursday’s meeting.
Before the issue went to a vote, the school board accepted public feedback online regarding the decision of whether or not to change the name, between September 14 and October 12. It received 1,415 responses. Of those responses, 779 indicated they were not likely to support renaming, according to a presentation at Thursday’s meeting.
The board also held a community meeting on October 4 and a public hearing on October 10.
Superintendent Michelle Reid spoke at the meeting prior to the vote, reviewing the feedback from the survey. She recommended that the school be renamed Carter G. Woodson High School or Woodson High School, and that the board continue to seek public input on the topic.
Now that the board has voted to change the name, the next phase to choose a new name will begin. A new online feedback form will be available online until November 1, then there will be a public hearing on October 24. The school board will take the final vote on November 9.
Feature image, stock.adobe.com
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