Community members in Arlington, Va., are pressing the school board to change the name of Washington-Lee High, a campaign that comes in response to last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally around a statue of Robert E. Lee descended into violence.
While the school’s name has come under occasional scrutiny, school board members this time indicated they are weighing establishing better criteria for how schools are named, potentially opening the door to renaming the high school.
Thursday evening, the school board held a moment of silence for those killed Saturday, including two state troopers whose helicopter crashed as they monitored the protest, and Heather Heyer, a counterprotester who was run down by a car allegedly driven by a white nationalist.
Board chairwoman Barbara Kanninen then delivered a statement on behalf of the board, saying that the events in Charlottesville — and the opening of new school buildings — raise important questions about how schools are named.
“It’s time to talk about the names of our schools, and what they mean, and why they matter. It is time to talk about the values these names reflect and the messages we are sending to our children,” Kanninen said.
At the same meeting, a student, parents and several other community members associated with the organization Indivisible Arlington spoke in favor of changing the name.
“It emits the hypocritical and shameful message of moral equivalency between those who fought for freedom and those who fought for slavery,” said Marc Beallor, a retired union organizer and member of Indivisible Arlington. “Let us act now in the memory of Heather Heyer, who gave her life in this cause.”
Leonie Alder, who will be a senior at Washington-Lee High this year, told board members she walks by two or three portraits of Lee as she walks the school’s hallways.
“Especially as a black student, I don’t want to be going to a school named for an oppressor of my ancestors,” Alder said.
The events in Charlottesville have reignited the debate over whether schools and roads should continue to bear the names of Confederate figures and whether statues honoring them should remain standing. President Trump lamented the loss of “the beautiful statues and monuments” that honor Confederate figures.
While the vast majority of speakers favored removing the name, two alumni defended keeping it, saying it would interrupt the legacy of a well-regarded school.
John Peck, an architect who graduated from the school in 1996, urged the board to consider Lee’s post-war legacy, not just his role as the leader of the Confederacy.