A Virginia school board has voted to rename an elementary school and a high school named after Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, respectively.
The change comes at the tail end of a year in which statues of Civil War heroes – even Union ones – and the Founding Fathers have been torn down.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School, both in Falls Church, Virginia, will be renamed after the school board decided that their legacies as people who “inflicted [pain] as slaveholders” outweighed their role as Founding Fathers.
“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.
The decision was taken following the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter riots and protests earlier this year, with board members claiming now was the time to push forward with the erasure of history.
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However, the move is not a popular one. Parents, pupils, teachers, and community members were all polled separately, and all oppose the move. 56% of all respondents in total disapproving of the proposed changes.
No group had a majority approving the changes.
Respondents noted that the two men are Founding Fathers and that owning slaves was a fact of life at the time, so Jefferson and Mason should not be remembered primarily as slave owners.
The cost for changing the Virginia school names away from Jefferson and Mason are also exorbitant, and were named as another factor against the change, with a total cost for both changes amounting to $110,260, which survey respondents said should be spent somewhere more productive.
Greg Anderson, the chair of the school board, however, downplayed the results.
“The survey wasn’t a referendum or a generalizable, statistical, random sample of public opinion,” he said. “The survey was informative, but not decisive on its own and should be viewed as information.”
Elizabeth Snyder, a student representative, fought back tears when discussing the results of the survey in November. “We should not force minority students and staff to accept the judgement on renaming of a majority unacquainted with the personal toll of racism,” Snyder said.
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The school in Virginia is not the only one to have its name stripped of Jefferson.
Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley, California, is being renamed after Ruth Acty, the first black teacher in the district.
Abraham Lincoln may also have his name removed from school in California, due to his actions against Native Americans, with the committee chair who is deciding the name change claiming that Lincoln and others never showed that “black lives mattered.”
A similar effort is underway at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Earlier this year, as Black Lives Matter riots raged in Madison for weeks, rioters tore down the statue of an abolitionist, immigrant Union soldier on the Capitol Square.
Hans Christian Heg died for the Union at age 33, from wounds taken in the Battle of Chickamauga.
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