What a busy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Old Town shop fibre space on March 3. It was Harris’ first official visit outside of the White House since she was inaugurated, and she spoke about the American Rescue Plan with shop owner Danielle Romanetti.

Alexandria City Public Schools reopened for hybrid instruction this week, the first time since all school facilities were shut down on March 13. The school system reportedly welcomed back 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade. ACPS will open on March 9 for special education students, and then fully reopen its doors to hybrid learning for students on March 16.

On the coronavirus front, the number  of deaths due to the virus has climbed to 123, and cases are at 10,404 since the first case was reported on March 11, 2020. Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is doing well keeping the numbers down, although with a vaccine waiting list exceeding 45,000 and 3,000 vaccine doses being given out weekly, distribution will continue to be slow.

More than 550 people responded to this week’s poll on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. About 60% of respondents said they were happy with Alexandria High School, but not with Naomi Brooks Elementary School; 25% said they liked both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 6% didn’t like the high school name and were happy with the elementary school name.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories:

Here are our most-read posts this week:

  1. Just In: Vice President Visits Old Town Shop Fibre Space
  2. Alexandria Wants Feedback on Building Spray Park in Del Ray
  3. El Chapo’s Wife to be Isolated in Alexandria Jail for One Month Per COVID-19 Distancing Rules
  4. Consultant Proposes Replacing Community Shelter with Mixed-Use Development
  5. Alexandria Advocacy Facebook Group Parodied in New Blog
  6. Superintendent Proposes New Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary
  7. Patrick Moran, Son of Former Congressman Jim Moran, is Running for City Council
  8. ACPS Reopens its Doors and Evaluating Grading System for Traumatized Students
  9. Man Arrested for High-Speed Vehicle Race on I-495
  10. Meronne Teklu Enters City Council Race
  11. Neighborhood Spotlight: Old Town is the New Town

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via Peter Velz/Twitter 

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What was meant to be a fun, wholesome Super Bowl watch-party with City Councilman John Chapman this weekend was briefly derailed as the meeting was stormed by newcomers with Nazi profile pictures spouting racist slurs.

The meeting was hosted as part of Chapman’s reelection campaign. The event was open to the public and had fairly lax restrictions on who could speak.

“I caught on pretty quick once somebody started yelling the N word over and over again,” Chapman said. “We had 30 folks in with multiple pages of people. I found the person talking and they didn’t have their face up but they had a swastika.”

The first Nazi was quickly joined by more. Chapman estimated around six in total came in, shouting profanity and slurs, for around two minutes until the group’s admins were able to block them.

While white nationalism has been on the rise in the United States, Chapman said it’s the first time he’s confronted something like it head-on in the campaign trail.

Moving forward, Chapman said all campaign events are going to have a little tighter scrutiny of who gets to talk.

“We’re definitely going to use this opportunity to tighten our protocol,” Chapman said. “A lot of campaigns are going to be virtual, so we have to be tighter about who we let in and how we watch that. We have to make sure we have admins running events, because I have no doubt it happen again.”

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Congressman John Lewis and 1972 Titan Petey Jones are just a few names that have made the latest cut in the rename process for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The semifinalist names for the schools have been selected, and ACPS has launched another set of polls to further slim down the selection. The polls close on Feb. 19 and the top three names from each poll will be presented to the School Board for final consideration on March 4. There will be a public hearing on March 18, and then the Board will vote on the names on April 8.

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.

The official names will be implemented on July 1, and ACPS estimates that it will cost $325,000 to rename T.C. and more than $5,000 to rename Maury.

Semifinalist replacement names for T.C. Williams High School:

Semifinalist replacement names for Matthew Maury Elementary School:

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Every month, Agenda Alexandria tackles a topic of significance to the public. This month, the organization is hitting two of the biggest talking points of 2020 in one fell swoop: how is Alexandria influenced and impacted by institutional racism.

A discussion with Bernadette Onyenaka, co-founder of the O&G Racial Equity Collaborative, and Sara VanderGoot, co-owner of Mind the Mat, is scheduled Monday, Jan. 25, from 6:30-8 p.m. The program will be streamed live.

“In response to the murder of George Floyd, deep inequities in COVID-19 outcomes between people of color and their white counterparts, and the recent presidential election, Americans are engaging in a new conversation about race and structural racism,” the group set on the organization website. “At a local level, Alexandria is not immune from these issues and therefore cannot escape these conversations. Yet sometimes it seems as though we are talking past each other instead of listening and engaging in a dialogue that will move our city forward. Community conversations that bring important stakeholders together to discuss race, equity, and inclusion can help Alexandria’s growth.”

The discussion will focus on methods of discussing diversity, equity and inclusion to create better conversations.

“From an educational perspective, what do important terms such as allyship, racial justice, and microagressions mean?,” the group said. “Join us live online Monday, Jan. from 6:30-8 p.m. for a conversation with local and national leaders on what it will take to advance a new dialogue and new action on race, equity and inclusion.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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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.”

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Heading into a School Board vote on Nov. 23, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings had thrown his support in with those supporting changing the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

Hutchings explained his support for the name change in an opinion piece in Tes, an educator trade magazine.

“Inexplicably, it has taken until today, 55 years since the school opened, to see a committed renaming process that may finally remove him and his legacy from the only public high school in Alexandria, a small but influential Virginia city in the shadow of Washington, D.C.” Hutchings wrote.

The announcement comes after a presentation on Monday by The Identity Project, an initiative formed by ACPS to examine the issue. The project gathered community feedback from students, faculty and alumni, which found that 75% of responders agreed with changing the name.

T.C. Williams High School is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, a superintendent who fought against integrating schools. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after Confederate leader and oceanographer Matthew Maury.

“On Nov. 23, 2020, the School Board will vote on whether or not to change the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.,” ACPS said in a newsletter. “This comes after the start of The Identity Project, an extensive community discussion, which culminated in a presentation to the School Board (PDF) this past Monday, Nov. 16. In this presentation, Superintendent Dr. Hutchings presented his recommendation for the School Board to approve changing the names of both schools.”

In his essay, Hutchings references petitions that circulated around Alexandria earlier this year to get the name changed.

“In August, when I was informed that a petition with the requisite number of 100 signatures from anyone in the Alexandria community to begin the conversation had been submitted, I remember thinking this was our carpe diem moment,” Hutchings wrote. “Soon after, a second petition was submitted to change the name of one of our division’s elementary schools named after Matthew Maury, an oceanographer who also happened to be a Confederate who lobbied for the Confederacy in Europe, attempted to negotiate a slave trade with Brazil, and encouraged those with like-minded beliefs to migrate to Mexico following the civil war.”

Hutchings also recognized complaints from members of the community that things weren’t moving quickly enough.

“In the weeks and days that followed those submissions, there was frustration in our highly diverse school community — which comprises families from 120 countries speaking 121 languages — that things were not moving quickly enough,” Hutchings said. “But from where I stood, there was much work to be done to ensure a transparent, thorough and fair public engagement process.”

Hutchings didn’t include a recommendation for what the new name would be, a process likely to follow in early 2021 if the name change is approved.

“Later this month, the school board will vote on whether to change those two school names,” Hutchings said. “Among the suggestions circulating as alternatives are Boone-Yoast High School, named after coach Hermon Boone and assistant coach Bill Yoast from that famous ’71 football team, and Nolan Dawkins High School after the first African American judge in our city’s history. Other suggestions have included simply Alexandria High School.”

Both Boone-Yoast and Nolan Dawkins could generate their own controversies, with Boone’s role in the integration of T.C. Williams agreed to be somewhat exaggerated and Dawkins facing some public pushback earlier this year after it was revealed that the suspect in a murder had been out on bond approved by Dawkins.

Image via ACPS

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The City of Alexandria is planning to host a series of meetings to discuss work being done to promote racial and social equity in the city. The discussions will culminate with a resolution going to City Council.

“Alexandria is committed to race and social equity through collaboration among City departments, employees, community members, nonprofit partners and other stakeholders to implement a framework that ensures City policy decisions and practices advance race and social equity,” the city said. “The City’s commitment and efforts moving forward require inclusion, input and ideas from every part of the community.”

The city hosted town halls this summer discussing changing policies and concerns about systemic racism in policing. City leadership remains divided over plans to implement a Community Police Review Board.

The focus on recognizing and addressing racial injustice issues in Alexandria over the last year has led to initiatives, including a committee researching lynchings in the city and the hiring of the city’s first Race and Social Equity Officer Jaqueline Tucker.

The engagement sessions are scheduled for:

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The deadline is 11:59 p.m. next Wednesday (October 28) for the community to weigh in on a survey on whether Alexandria City Public Schools should change the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The survey is part of the renaming process for both schools, and the school board will officially vote next month on whether to change the names.

Thomas Chambliss Williams was the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond.

According to ACPS, “One of the ways that we can move forward is by acknowledging our own history, while refusing to allow that history to define who we currently are as a school division in the present.”

The short survey asks whether respondents “strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree” on having a good understanding of Williams and Maury, and whether they agree on a name change. The survey also asks for your zip code and relation to ACPS, whether as a student, staffer, parent or community partner.

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Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, one of the student representatives on the Alexandria School Board, reported that she was called the n-word in an online forum discussing race in Alexandria City Public Schools.

The school system is in the renaming process for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, and the October 7 student forum was the second conversation on where ACPS stands in regard to racial issues.

The student was called the slur in a chat comment during the online conversation.

“I feel it’s necessary to address what occurred during the second student conversation, which was unacceptable and extremely hurtful,” Sanchez-Viafara told the School Board on Thursday. “We need to make tremendous changes within ACPS, because that was not acceptable, and no student should have to confront something as mentally and physically wounding as that.”

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said at the end of the meeting that ACPS must be relentless and unapologetic in getting the renaming work done.

“We have to stand tall, and we have to look past that and we have to understand that there are still some people out there that are just ignorant,” Hutchings told the Board.

Helen Lloyd, the ACPS executive director of communications, said that the comment was not made by a student, and that it was a person with a personal grievance against the school system.

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Morning Notes

City Recommends Staying Home for the Holidays — “The safest way to enjoy the holidays while COVID-19 remains in the community is to find ways to celebrate at home… For everyone’s safety, the CDC recommends quarantining for 14 days following all travel.” [City of Alexandria]

Voter Registration Deadline is Approaching — “There’s currently no line to vote at the Office of Voter Registration and Elections (132 N. Royal St.)! This option is available to all registered voters in Alexandria through Oct. 31. For days, times, other locations, and other voting options, visit alexandriava.gov/1720.” [Twitter]

Beyer Criticizes Trump for Not Wearing Face Mask — “Trump won’t say when he last tested negative for COVID-19. He won’t say if he is testing negative now. He’s about to start traveling across the country, holding huge rallies. #SuperSpreaderInChief” [Twitter]

Foundation Fitness Moves to New Location in Del Ray — “Attention!!! We have a new neighbor and we are pumped about it! Foundation Fitness has moved on down the road to a new UPGRADED space at 1901B Mount Vernon Ave. Go check it out tomorrow at their grand re-opening from 1-3pm! Don’t miss out on raffles, refreshments and special discounts!” [Facebook]

ACPS Hosts Third Community Read-In on T.C. Williams High School History — “Tune in to learn the real story behind “Remember the Titans” — riots, protests, systemic injustice, and a civil rights crisis in Alexandria, alongside the merger of our black and white high schools, our integration plan, and a winning football team.” [Facebook]

Watch: Fire Department Holds Virtual Wreath Laying Ceremony — “The Alexandria Fire Department, Ivy Hill Cemetery Historical Preservation Society and the Friendship Veterans Fire Association host the 50th Annual Ivy Hill Memorial Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony to honor the men and women of the Alexandria Fire Department who have died in the line of duty and members who have passed in the last 12 months.” [Youtube]

COVID-19 U.S. Honor Quilt on Display at Del Ray Artisans — “Help build HOPE by creating your own 10.5″x 10.5″ panel to add to HOPE sign and to be joined to the quilt. Free panel squares and information pamphlets are available in the entryway of the gallery. All media is fine. No sewing required. The art panels will be copied onto vinyl for display.” [Facebook]

Naomi Wadler’s Scarf is in the Smithsonian’s ‘Girlhood’ Exhibit — “The “two-movie scarf” became Naomi Wadler’s signature, and Naomi wore it during her history-making moment when the then fifth grader exploded on the national scene during the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Areas of patchy fog early. Considerable clouds early. Some decrease in clouds later in the day. High 72F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph. A mostly clear sky (in the evening). Low 49F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Customer Experience Manager — “Responsible for leading Front End Operations.” [Indeed]

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