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Superintendent: Black Student Voices Must be Heard in T.C. Williams High School Renaming Discussion

Alexandria City Public Schools said the renaming of T.C. Williams High School is a conversation that must prioritize the school’s Black voices.

At a school board work session last night (Thursday), the board expressed universal approval of the planned vote on a name change for T.C. Williams High School later this year, but also pushed back against the vocal advocates for the change who accuse the school system of dragging its feet.

“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘why can’t we change it now,'” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings. “What I’m hoping we’re able to do is allow for our community to be educated around who Thomas Chambliss Williams is, and how that makes them feel – and have the Board hear voices of our community to make the decision.”

The meeting also covered other issues of inequality in the school system, some officials argued could prove more impactful long-term for students than a name change, but the discussion about the T.C. Williams High School name was the elephant in the room.

The superintendent also noted that Black students, rather than white supporters within the school and the broader community, should be the more prominent voices in the discussion about the potential name change. Hutchings invited the two student representatives, Lorraine Johnson and Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, to share their views on the issue. Johnson said with the current controversies around the Black Lives Matter protests and the Trump administration, changing the name of the school was one wrong that could be fixed on a local level.

“There are lots of wrongs to right, but changing the name is the first,” Johnson said. “I understand there’s people who want it taken down immediately, but with that much at stake, we have to get this right. Before the name is taken down, we at least need to be on the same page moving forward for what we’re going to name the new high school. We need to be a united front when we go to the public about what we name it.”

 

Johnson also said she supported the students who have been covering up the name of the school on the marquee, an act ACPS and T.C. Principal Peter Balas had previously threatened to pursue legal action over. Johnson said the tarping is partially the result of students not feeling as though they have a day-to-day platform to speak on the issue.

A recurring theme of the discussion was ensuring that white allies don’t override Black voices in the discussion.

“White ally-ship is important, but students of color should be on the front lines of that work,” Johnson said. “This is our fight.”

“When we give black and brown children a platform… the sky is the limit,” said Hutchings. “When the history book is written about this historic moment that I hope happens in December 2020, [I hope is says] that the students at T.C. Williams were the ones that led this. That’s not to say we don’t need everyone else, but our Black and brown students’ voices matter.

School Board members rallied behind the idea that delaying the discussion to December, rather than taking immediate action,

“It’s an understandable frustration,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez, “but at the end of the day it’s important that we go through a process that allows Black and brown students to be heard and allows students who are going to be the future leaders in this high school express their voice.”

Noting that the school board mostly seemed in agreement that the name needed to be changed, Suarez predicted the harder fight ahead will be on what the new name will be.

Photo via ACPS

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