State Watch

Virginia district renaming schools honoring Jefferson, Mason

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Officials in Falls Church, Va., voted on Tuesday to rename two schools bearing the names of Thomas Jefferson and George Mason.

In a unanimous vote, the Falls Church School Board made the decision to rename Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School.

The push to change the schools’ names came after a summer of nationwide social unrest following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The school board conducted a survey in October among nearly 3,500 community members, staff and students. More than half of the respondents — 56 percent — opposed changing the names.

Some survey participants pointed to Mason and Jefferson’s history as slaveowners, and others stated that students felt marginalized and uncomfortable going to a school named after them.

Those who opposed the change said that “the names should not be changed based on George Mason and Thomas Jefferson owning slaves because that was a norm at the time” and that a change would be “a waste” of school resources,” according to the school board.

“The Board took seriously the viewpoints and concerns raised by many students, parents, staff, and community members,” School Board Chair Greg Anderson said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote. “We thank everyone who shared their perspectives with us and will be mindful of your comments as we now begin selecting names that reflect the diversity of opinions in our community. Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and community members feel safe, supported, and inspired.”

Protests sparked by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody and the police shooting of Taylor in Louisville, Ky., earlier this year included calls for the removal of statues and memorials to a slate of historical figures, including Confederate leaders, explorer Christopher Columbus and more. Some have called for the removal of statues of Founding Fathers who owned enslaved people, such as Jefferson and former President George Washington.

—Updated at 4:31 p.m.

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