Alexandria, VA

After the long-awaited removal of the confederate Appomattox statue at Prince and Washington Streets, some in Alexandria are turning their attention back to a long-simmering discussion about whether T.C. Williams High School should be renamed.

It’s no secret that Thomas Chambliss Williams, the superintendent of Alexandria schools from the ’30s to the ’60s, was an ardent segregationist who fought against uniting black and white students in the school system. Williams notably fired a black employee who participated in an NAACP lawsuit against the city, though he claimed race had nothing to do with the decision, according to Zebra.

A Facebook group has sprung up around trying to change the name. The group’s leadership is less firm around what the new name should be. The current placeholder name is Tubman-Chavez High School, though other suggestions have included Alexandria High School or Parker-Gray High School in honor of the school that closed in 1965.

This isn’t the first time the topic of renaming T.C. Williams High School has come up. The topic divided the School Board in 2017 after protests to the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, according to Theogony, the student-run newspaper at the school. Theogony reported that some School Board members were concerned that changing the name could hinder donations to the Scholarship Fund — an organization currently hindered by COVID-19 after its annual gala was canceled.

A spokesperson for Alexandria City Public Schools said the name cannot be changed by a principal or superintendent but would require School Board approval.

The official policy on renaming a school is:

The School Board may, at its discretion, consider requests to rename an existing school. The following procedure shall be followed when renaming an existing school to honor individuals or to recognize places or historical events for their contribution to the community or their impact on it. As outlined in Appendix A, such requests must be submitted to the Clerk of the Board with an accompanying petition of 100 Alexandria residents who support the request. In addition, the following procedures shall be followed:

A. Existing schools may be renamed for, but are not limited to, individuals who have made an exceptional and extraordinary contribution to a particular school, school program, or to the school division as a whole; provided, however, that any individuals for whom an existing school is to be renamed shall no longer be an active employee of Alexandria City Public Schools. Existing schools may also be renamed in recognition of a place or event of historical significance related to the school facility itself. Names that could cause confusion with other public facilities in Alexandria, or in adjoining jurisdictions and other areas of the Commonwealth should be avoided.

B. If, after receipt of the request and supporting petition, the Board votes to pursue a request to rename an existing school, the Superintendent will follow the naming process as outlined in Section I. above.

C. Such requests may be submitted at any time, provided however, that following the rejection of a request for renaming an existing school by the School Board, the same or substantially the same recommendation may not be considered again until 12 months after such rejection.

All requests shall include: (1) the name(s) of the individual and/or group(s) making the request; (2) biographical/historical data concerning the proposed name; (3) the rationale for the request; and (4) a petition of 100 Alexandria City residents in support of the request. Appendix A contains the forms to be used for such requests.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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