Alexandria, VA

Students at T.C. Williams High School and city residents are placing a tarp over the school marquee every day to obscure the name until the school board votes to change it next spring.

“I don’t want to graduate from a school that is represented by a racist name,” T.C. rising senior Sarah Devendorf told ALXnow. “I don’t want to put it on my diploma, and it’s shameful because we are such a diverse liberal community.”

In a protest last week, students were told by ACPS officials that if they continued placing covers over the marquee that they would face legal action.

“The adult chaperones of the student protest were informed in advance that students would face no legal consequences, police involvement, or school disciplinary actions by holding their protest as they had notified the school in advance,” T.C. principal Peter Balas explained in an email to the community. “However, what actually transpired during the protest turned out to be different from what was discussed with the adult chaperones in advance. The chaperones and organizers had been advised that any action to cover the marquee could be seen as defacing public property.”

Protestors have continued to place covers over the marquee at various times of the day.

Balas also said that since Black Lives Matter protests have erupted throughout the city and country, that he, in fact, marched along with T.C. students in recent days in Old Town. He advised students to work through him should they want to organize another protest.

Earlier this month, the board unanimously voted to consider changing the name of T.C. by next spring. T.C. is the largest high school in Virginia and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was a segregationist and discouraged school integration.

The school is best known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.

Courtesy photo

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Updated at 5:30 p.m. — A previous version of the story said that families and staff made up the 60% who preferred a hybrid model. Staff were reportedly not asked the question

The survey results are in and 60% of Alexandria City Public School families prefer a hybrid model for reopening schools this fall. Only two options were presented to the community in the survey, meaning that when school reopens it will either remain completely virtual or there will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning.

“One possibility is that we may remain 100% virtual when school reopens,” ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said on Thursday. “Another option is to create a hybrid, or what we call a blended model.”

At noon today (Friday), the School Board will discuss the latest findings of the community survey on reopening, which was filled out earlier this month by 11,852 families and 2,077 staffers. The school system shut down in March and had to quickly adapt with a virtual-only model for the remainder of the year, and like districts throughout the country was forced to hold a virtual graduation ceremony for T.C. Williams High School in June.

The final plan will be approved by the School Board on Friday, August 7, and it will be sent to the Virginia Department of Education on August 14, Hutchings said.

“It really behooves us to not rush to get our plans out,” he said. “The decisions that we make must be educationally sound and they must be equitable.”

Hutchings also said that staff are reviewing school capacities so that students can appropriately socially distance.

“We’re also looking at multipurpose rooms and gyms to help with social distancing,” Hutchings said.

ACPS will conduct seven community chats from July 20-24 on the matter.

“Our survey has already shown us your preferred options for reopening in the fall,” notes ACPS. “However, ACPS is required to follow the guidelines from the Virginia Department Education and those requirements may limit our options for the reopening of schools on September 8, 2020.”

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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Updated at 3:45 p.m — The Alexandria City School Board unanimously voted 9-0 on Friday to consider changing the name of T.C. Williams by next spring.

Earlier: Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent agrees that the name of T.C. Williams High School needs to change, and asked the community to be patient with a proposed process that, if approved today by the school board, would result in a report to be acted upon next spring.

“This is the right time to address this,” Hutchings said of the name change. “I think that we as a community have to understand that we have to have a process for any kind of change, from adopting or changing a building or spending dollars in our budget. It’s important for the community to respect the process. The process helps us be methodical.”

The School Board will vote on moving forward with the name change process at its meeting today at noon.

But Lindsey Vick and Marc Solomon organized a petition that went to the board, and they want the name change to be made faster. They said the School Board does not need to engage in a process that will see resolution next year.

“We reviewed all the policy documents before we started this petition,” the pair said in a statement. “Nothing in school board policy precludes them from voting to eliminate the name T.C. Williams by end of year. We respect a robust process to pick a new name. However, the time has long past to decide whether to change the name.”

As previously reported, Thomas Chambliss Williams was a racist and segregationist who advocated against integration. Multiple efforts to have the school name changed have failed in years past.

Hutchings said that the school system is committed to rooting out systemic racism.

“One advantage of having a solid process is allowing our public to speak on a decision that the board has to make,” he said. “I think that as a school division we have been able to speak the truth about who T.C. Williams was.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools have acknowledged that Thomas Chambliss Williams was a racist and segregationist, and on Friday the School Board will decide on moving forward with the renaming process for T.C. Williams High School.

On the table is a proposal to begin the renaming process by directing Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. to initiate a public engagement process this fall, followed by a report with recommendations next spring.

According to the motion going before the board:

It is well documented that throughout his tenure as Superintendent, Thomas Chambliss Williams exhibited racism, fought to maintain segregation in ACPS, and promoted the school division’s massive resistance to desegregation efforts. This is inconsistent with the forward-looking vision and values expressed in the Equity for All 2025 Strategic Plan.

I THEREFORE MOVE, pursuant to Section III.B. of Regulation FF-R, that the School Board officially consider the request to rename T.C. Williams High School. Accordingly, the School Board hereby empowers the Superintendent to initiate the public engagement process, outlined in Section I. of the regulation, to solicit community feedback and possible nominations for renaming T.C. Williams High School.

There are roughly 4,000 students who attend T.C., and it is the largest high school in Virginia. Last month, in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations after George Floyd’s death, the Alexandria City Public School system condemned systemic racism, and a petition to rename the school was submitted to the board. More than 170 people signed it, including Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein.

Williams was the superintendent of the city school system from the 1930s to the 1960s and was a segregationist who advocated against integration.

Lindsey Vick and Marc Solomon are leading the new fight to get the school renamed. Two previous efforts to change the name failed, and Vick and Solomon want a faster resolution.

“While we understand the enormous challenges in reopening, we cannot accept an extended process to simply decide to change the name,” the pair told ALXnow in a statement. “We believe the school board can vote to remove the name immediately and have a new name chosen by the end of the year. Neighboring districts and districts across the nation have acted faster. Alexandria can, too. Our children are watching.”

The current placeholder name is Tubman-Chavez High School.

“Harriet Tubman was a black female freedom fighter and César Chávez was an important Latino civil rights activist,” notes an ACPS staff report. “[They were] incredible Americans whose names would honor our high school while allowing it to keep the initials ‘T.C.’ They would provide representation to students who do not see their heritage adequately in Alexandria schools’ names… This name change can preserve most branding, allow students to still be part of ‘T.C.,’ and remove this stain on our history.”

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Alexandria City Public Schools will not comment on assertions made by the former ACPS Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony, who lambasted the school system and the leadership of Superintendent Gregory Huthings, Jr. in a scathing opinion letter published by the Alexandria Times.

Anthony apologized for not fulfilling promises made when she started her job in January 2018, and said that the tide turned against her after raising concerns over de-escalating transportation employee complaints. She also that ACPS leadership is unstable and that it “does not serve our students or educators well.”

“At this critical time, when ACPS needs the voice and solutions of every demonstrated leader and change-agent mind, what you actually have behind the scenes is a hurt and confused, disappointed, insecure, silenced and desperately hard-working staff,” Anthony wrote. “This seems to be the ACPS legacy.”

Helen Lloyd, the ACPS director of communications, told ALX now that it is a personnel matter and that she could not comment on it.

ALXnow also reached out to School Board Chair Cindy Anderson but did not receive a reply.

Anthony said Hutchings’ ACPS restructuring plan was hastily done and that ACPS leadership is now short staffed.

“On July 1, 2020, in one fell swoop, ACPS is beginning a new fiscal year without a chief  operating officer, chief human resources officer, director of transportation, director of safety and security as well as the director of procurement, who recently resigned,” Anthony wrote. “I fear others may be contemplating escape or a protective posture – meaning, only do what you are told.”

Mayor Justin Wilson wrote on Facebook that he is aware of much of the issues raised by Anthony.

“There is a lot in that letter that concerns me,” Wilson said. “Much of it, I am aware of. I have expressed those concerns to those who can address the concerns.”

The school board has two public hearings this week on the potential reopening of the school system this fall.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Former ACPS Chief Executive Officer Decries School System Leadership — “Some ACPS leadership and staff recognized a downward shift in my influence about a year ago. I remained focused. Then, this past December, after a disagreement about how to de-escalate transportation employee complaints, my position of chief operating officer, among other positions, was eliminated by the school board as part of what came off as a hastily generated restructuring plan by Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., Ed.D.” [Alex Times]

City Buys 10K Face Masks for Local Nonprofits — “This week, Griffin, Jenelle, and Caroline helped bag some of the 10,000 masks purchased by the City of Alexandria for distribution to local nonprofits!” [Facebook]

Sears at Landmark Mall Closing — “For many decades Sears has been a fixture of Landmark Mall. When the mall closed in 2017 for eventual redevelopment and stores closed inside one by one, somehow Sears remained.” [Zebra]

Hookah Lounge Opening in West End — “The Double Apple Lounge will be opening this coming Tuesday, July 7 in Alexandria’s West End. The restaurant, lounge and hookah bar is at 5101 Seminary Road, just west of the intersection at North Beauregard Street with indoor and outdoor seating and plenty of parking.” [Alexandria Living]

New Job: Pantry Team Member — “This position directly supports the food operations for United Community. The food operations consists of; A Monday-Friday Pantry where the area’s under served population, if registered, can come in and pick up food for themselves and their family, both shelf stable and fresh products.” [Indeed]

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The School Board will be taking up the question of renaming T.C. Williams High School this fall, but whether the school should be renamed is still undecided.

The school was built on land taken by eminent domain from a nearby black community and then was named in honor of Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams. Williams was an ardent segregationist who fought not only to keep the black and white students divided, but fired a school employee who tried to get her children sent to an integrated school.

A Facebook group played a prominent role in spreading a petition to rename the school, though efforts have since grown beyond just renaming T.C. Advocates also say Matthew Maury Elementary School, named after Confederate leader and oceanographer Matthew Maury, should be renamed as well.

In neighboring Arlington County, Washington-Lee High School was renamed Washington-Liberty early last year.

Defenders of the T.C. Williams name, which have popped up in the Facebook group, say the school’s name is part of a legacy beyond Williams — frequently citing the mostly inaccurate film Remember the Titans.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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One thing is clear: Alexandria City Public Schools won’t be the same if they reopen this fall, according to School Board Chair Cindy Anderson.

On Friday, the board will receive information on the school system’s reopening planning after shutting down in-person learning completely in March. Since that time, everything has been online, including classes, parent/teacher conferences and school board meetings. The plan itself is still in development.

But social distancing requirements will likely mean that there will be a rotation of students who will go to school every week, while other students remain home, Anderson said.

“You’re only supposed to have one student per seat on every other seat on a bus,” Anderson told ALXnow. “You can see that that’s not going to mean business as usual.”

There are 15,000 students in ACPS and the plan is due to be turned into the Virginia Department of Education next month. The hope, Anderson said, is to reopen a modified school schedule in September.

“Most likely there will be a certain percentage attending on a given day or at a given time,” Anderson said. “There are lots of ways that maybe the students will be doing less moving and the teachers more. We’ve got to think of it in a whole different way.”

Still, Anderson also said there is still the possibility that the school system will be completely virtual in the fall depending on the direction that the coronavirus takes in the city and throughout the state.

There will be virtual public hearings on the matter on July 10, August 6 and 7. The plan will also be discussed at the June 26, July 10, July 17, and August 7 meetings. The deadline to get the finalized reopening plan to the state is August 14.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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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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After some initial confusion on whether students would be required to participate in the upcoming summer school program, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) clarified in a School Board meeting last Friday that the summer learning program is “expected but not mandatory.”

School officials said they hoped to clear the air and emphasize the flexibility of the program. Gerald Mann, executive director of elementary and secondary instruction, said families traveling over the summer or students who tend to not wake up in the morning over summer can still be accommodated in the new schedule.

“The summer program lets people do this wherever they like,” Mann said. “We’ve tried to make one-stop-shop. If you [to participate] later on do not want to start at 9 a.m., you can start at 9 p.m. All videos will be recorded.”

Mann said the emphasis on choice means families will be able to choose what types of classes students can opt-out of. The schools will also be offering to mail learning kits to homes with materials like science experiments of books.

A summer education program that would be available to all students has been a goal under Superintendent Gregory Hutchings a few years, Mann said, but the pandemic has finally given the schools the opportunity to try to implement that.

Terri Mozingo, chief academic officer for ACPS, said the goal is to get students who have been out of school for months even before summer started to be ready to move to the next grade level.

“[The goal is] to engage, to enrich, and prepare the students,” said Mozingo. “We’re trying to mitigate and minimize summer loss and getting students to grade-level content.”

So far, 495 families have opted out of the program. While the School Board agreed with the goals of the program, there were still some lingering concerns about the implementation.

“Unless people are digging into the Q&A, I’m sure there are a lot of questions out there,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “At the beginning of most years, families receive a letter, but this process is different. I’m concerned if there’s going to be individual, tailored outreach.”

Hutchings said the idea behind making the default an opt-in was making sure no families that wanted to join were left out and figured that the new system would be easier to manage. Mann added that having students be automatically included would help give a better idea of how many students would be in classes.

Hutchings acknowledged that the rollout of the program could have been done better and that one of the lessons learned is that if school staff need more time to put the program together they should tell the community.

Mann also noted that the new summer program includes no longer charging for course credit recovery for students.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools reiterated in a School Board meeting last Friday (May 15) that the upcoming school year won’t start before Labor Day (Sept. 7) but the next school year likely will.

In a memo to the board, Chief Human Resources Officer Stephen Wilkins said that Calendar Committee recommended the 2021-2022 school year start at on Aug. 28. School officials warned, however, that this could change depending on the long-term impact of COVID-19.

“We may be revisiting the 2021-2022 calendar again,” Hutchings said. “It may look completely different than what we have presented… With everything that’s happening with the pandemic, calendars for this year and next year could look different.”

The school district said earlier that the state legislature’s change to the requirement that schools start after Labor Day — colloquially known as the King’s Dominion Rule — came too late to give families enough time to plan for the schedule change in the 2020-2021 school year.

While officials said Alexandria is not alone in pushing back plans to start before Labor Day until the 2021-2022 school year, the school system shouldn’t fall behind other jurisdictions moving to a pre-Labor Day start to ensure that Alexandria students have as much academic time as students in other regional jurisdictions.

“We reviewed the calendars for our region,” Wilkins said. “Many jurisdictions have a pre-Labor Day start. Our concern was to align our calendars with our neighbors.”

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar recommendation in one of its meetings later this month.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Tomorrow, the Alexandria School Board will consider changes to its grading policies that will, among other things, eliminate final exams for secondary and high school students.

The board will also talk about whether or not to give students in grades 6-12 “pass” or “no grade” for their fourth quarter work, according to a staff memorandum.

“In line with VDOE [Virginia Department of Education] guidance, these two options would allow students the maximum flexibility and opportunity to improve their grade during the fourth quarter by continuing to engage in instruction, without negatively impacting students who might receive an NG [No Grade],” according to the memo.

Additionally, elementary school student progress reports would be based on work completed on or before March 13, which is when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school system to shut down.

Ten days later, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered schools closed throughout the state for the remainder of the academic year. The school board has not yet made a formal decision regarding summer school.

Every day, ACPS releases staff updates at noon and notices to families at 1 p.m. in ACPS Express. Student attendance is not being tracked during the shutdown, and teachers are legally prohibited from grading any work or providing new learning material to students.

Students who complete at least 60% of their distance learning assignments would get a passing grade equivalent to receiving a 100. That final grade would then be averaged against their previous three quarters, and letter grades would be averaged for the partial third quarter of the school year.

If a student receives an NG for the fourth quarter, it would not be counted and only the other three quarters would be averaged, according to the memo. There are more than 15,700 students in ACPS.

The school board’s online meeting is set to start at noon on Friday.

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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