After a unanimous vote at the Alexandria School Board meeting last night, the names T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School were voted out — with the replacements still to be decided.
Over the next few months, the School Board will seek public feedback before settling on a new pair of names. The new names will be chosen by the Board in the spring and go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
“I’m excited for this moment,” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who recently threw his name in among supporters of the change. “It’s finally here. On behalf of our students: this is a historic moment for everybody. For many years people have been trying to have the name of T.C. Williams in particular changed… I want to commend the Board for allowing us to be able toe explore and get information from our community.”
T.C. Williams High School is the biggest public high school in Virginia, and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was an avowed segregationist. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after an oceanographer and Confederate leader.
While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.
“We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to honor,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “The names were selected not because of their accomplishments, but as declarations of our community values in 1929 and in 1962. We have an opportunity to right that wrong.”
While the School Board members unanimously supported, others acknowledged that the symbolic change is far from the end of the discussion about eliminating vestiges of racism in the school infrastructure.
“T.C. and Maury no longer reflect who we are as a society, at least in Alexandria,” School Board member Heather Thornton said. “This is a symbolic step. Changing the name of T.C. is not going to do anything to eliminate systemic racism and barriers. It’s not going to solve anything. I hope people stay engaged and know this is a first step, but there are many things we need to have community engaged on.”
Thornton also pointed to disproportionality in suspension rates and graduation rates as lingering reminders of inequality in Alexandria City Public Schools, topics discussed later in the meeting.
“We can change the name all we want,” Thornton said, “but if we don’t change foundational issues I don’t think we will really achieve what we’re hoping to achieve as a school division.”