School renaming committees are set, first meetings this week

Stella Turner, Features Editor

On December 8, 2020, the Falls Church School Board unanimously voted to change the names of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School.

The vote polarized the Falls Church community, with many citizens arguing that the decision did not represent the majority opinion of students, staff, parents, and alumni. However, despite any disagreements, the FCCPS School Board’s call to action still stands: TJ and GM will be getting new names.

cheerleaders holding up a sign saying "MASON NATION!" for the 2019 Homecoming football game
For Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, the estimated cost for the renaming is $13,500; for George Mason High School, the estimated cost for the renaming is $96,760. The high school’s cost comes almost entirely from sports equipment and uniforms. (Photo by Stella Turner)

Freshman Susan Rotherham, who was appointed to help find a name for the elementary school, said she “could appreciate the arguments on both sides” of the School Board’s vote to rename. “However, the decision has been made and I am honored to be part of this process. What’s important now is that the renaming process is done in an inclusive way.”

As outlined in Regulation FFA-R, an Advisory Study Committee was formed for each school with the purpose of recommending names to the School Board. A total of 77 community members applied in early January, and Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan selected 15-25 people to sit on each committee. The groups are comprised of community members with varied racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Rotherham affirmed that “all voices need to be heard during this process.”

The committees will have a “kick-off” meeting this week, with the high school group meeting virtually on Wednesday, February 10 at 7 p.m., followed by the Elementary School group meeting on Thursday night. Both work sessions will be held via Zoom and publicly live streamed through FCCPS’s youtube channel, similar to the regular School Board meetings which have been held during the pandemic.

At their first sessions this week, the advisory committees will vote to approve a calendar of biweekly meetings throughout February and March, until their presentation to the School Board.

The committees’ charge is to provide five names for the high school and five names for the elementary school. “It is encouraged that the committee considers names that go beyond just naming buildings after people and contemplate place making and other aspects of the community,” an FCCPS letter to the community said.

Both groups will have to discuss the merits of naming schools after people or values, as have other school districts in the area. Recently, schools like Washington and Liberty HS (formerly Washington and Lee) and Justice HS (formerly J.E.B. Stuart) have been renamed with concepts, whereas Robert E. Lee HS was renamed John R. Lewis, after a person.

“I am coming into this renaming with an open mind about whether the school is named for a person, place, or an idea,” Rotherham said. “The name should represent our community, and should celebrate the future of our schools.”

“A name change matters because the High School and Elementary School should be named after people who have done good in the world…to make [the world] a better place,” said sophomore Belarmino Castillo-Juarez, a student appointee of the High School renaming committee.

Castillo-Juarez said he’s excited to work on the project, because “[he] want[s] people to feel safe when they bring their kids to school every day and not have to worry about discrimination.”

The chairs of both committees, Jamie Argento Rodriguez (HS) and Sherry Witt (ES), are each scheduled to present five chosen names in a work session on March 23. On April 13, the School Board will vote on which of the presented names will officially replace George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.

Committee members were selected to represent a variety of groups across the community through soliciting public input. In addition to talking with people appointed to the committees, FCCPS community members can submit name proposals for one or both schools to [email protected] for consideration.