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Charlottesville City School Board pauses renaming initiative

A policy outlining renaming guidelines awaits community and school board feedback

In January 2022, the CCS Board secured a majority vote to rename Venable Elementary and Clark Elementary to Trailblazers Elementary and Summit Elementary, the change set for Fall 2024.
In January 2022, the CCS Board secured a majority vote to rename Venable Elementary and Clark Elementary to Trailblazers Elementary and Summit Elementary, the change set for Fall 2024.

Charlottesville City School Board’s ongoing efforts to update its public school naming policy by disallowing schools to be named after individual people has sparked debate among some community members. As the Board considers its policy, Charlottesville grapples with balancing the legacies of revered educators and addressing historical controversies while also considering public opinion. 

The School Board is currently undergoing significant revisions to its renaming policy under a project entitled “Naming of Facilities and Grounds.” During a Nov. 2 meeting, the Board formally considered the complete prohibition of naming schools after any individual person, regardless of their history. The school naming process, open to public input, is designed to standardize renaming processes for CCS.

Under the proposed policy, new names must align with the school’s mission and geographic location — and avoid honoring individual people.

James Bryant, a departing CCS Board member serving nearly six years, said that the latest naming policy revisions aim to standardize a transparent renaming process.

“As a Board, I’m hoping we come to a happy medium,” said Bryant. “At the end of the day, it's one board of seven members, with everyone having an opportunity to contribute and share their ideas.”

Given recent significant challenges of violence and teacher shortages at Charlottesville High School, CCS Board members are unsure whether there will be space for the renaming policy on the upcoming Dec. 7 agenda. If the renaming policy is not voted on at the December meeting, the decision could be postponed to January, which would coincide with the induction of four new school board members.

The original plan for a comprehensive renaming of City schools was meant to start with elementary schools, with the effort extending to changing the names of secondary schools as well. 

The first two elementary schools slated to be renamed are Venable Elementary and Clark Elementary, which will become Trailblazer Elementary and Summit Elementary, respectively, in fall 2024. Venable’s name currently refers to a Confederate office who served as an aid to Robert E. Lee and Clark’s name references a general who supported colonial expansion into Indigenous lands. 

In April, the Board confirmed the renaming of Burnley-Moran Elementary and Johnson Elementary — because both namesakes have connections to Confederate groups — but it ultimately opted to delay the process to give staff and school communities the opportunity to consider alternative names. 

Sherry Kraft, CCS Board member since 2015 and a clinical psychologist, said Charlottesville community members have very strong feelings about the histories of Charlottesville schools and the renaming process. 

"I think the board is pretty firm on not wanting to name whole buildings after individuals because [of] these issues, and the changes in history and the political climate…we just want to do it right,'" Kraft said.

While the Board is still debating its name change policy, community members are working to address the historical significance of current namesakes. Community member Phil Varner wrote a 56-page research compilation titled “A Primer on the Names and Namesakes of Charlottesville City Schools” which provides an overview on the beliefs, actions and accomplishments of current City school namesakes. 

Although, not everyone agrees with the document’s conclusions. Chuck Moran, nephew of educator and Burnley-Moran Elementary namesake Sarepta Moran, challenged the accuracy of Verner’s document, which reports Sarepta Moran was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy memorial society — a group that built multiple Confederate monuments across the country. 

Chuck pointed to a lack of evidence over Sarepta’s level of involvement in the group, as well as the organization’s popularity with many Southern women during the time — UDC now actively denies any allegiance to militant or racists causes. 

“I think there may be a misperception that we’re angry because our great aunt’s name is coming off of the school, but that’s not the case,” Chuck said. “What we’re very interested in is a fair and honest policy and process that’s based on actual facts, inclusion and transparency.”

Some community members are concerned that the incoming policy could erase legacies associated with revered historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr., whose impact is embodied in Charlottesville High School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center. To address this, the policy allows outstanding individuals to be acknowledged by naming specific sections of school facilities in their honor. 

Regardless of the final naming policy, Johnson and Burnley-Moran will still be renamed, although new names have not yet been decided. Buford Middle School, poised for new construction, will be renamed "Charlottesville Middle School" to align with the no-name policy.