The wheels are officially in motion for the Richmond School Board to change the name of four schools in the city.
The board formally started the process Monday night by declaring its intent to rename George Mason Elementary School, E.S.H. Greene Elementary School, a new middle school on Hull Street Road, and Amelia Street School. The vote was 8-1.
“Changing a name is but a symbol,” Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said Monday. “But symbols matter, especially today when so many Americans of so many backgrounds feel increasingly under attack.”
Jonathan Young of the 4th District was the only vote in opposition.
“I oppose repealing our schools’ names, but I hope my colleagues will be straight with the city of Richmond and acknowledge that they want to remove George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Wythe, along with removal of any portraits of George Washington,” said Young, who also opposed last year’s renaming of J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School — named for a Confederate general — for former President Barack Obama.
The board must now have a public comment period of at least one month and hold at least two public hearings within the schools’ communities.
The process outlined Monday night by Shadae Harris, the chief engagement officer for the city school system, called for each school to have a “Renaming Team.” Those four groups will review names submitted by the public and choose three names to submit to the RPS administration for consideration.
Two community meetings have been scheduled for each school, and public meetings are set for Nov. 4 and Nov. 18.
George Mason, E.S.H. Greene and Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School are all in the process of being rebuilt with a scheduled open date of fall 2020.
George Mason Elementary was named for the slave-owning author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which served as a basis for the U.S. Bill of Rights. He owned approximately 100 slaves throughout his life, according to the website for Gunston Hall, Mason’s 18th-century mansion near the Potomac River.
“Personally, I believe this disqualifies him from the honor of having one of our schools named after him,” Kamras said in his weekly email to the Richmond schools community. “And to those who argue that we’re erasing history by changing a school name, I respectfully disagree. School names are different from history textbooks. They’re special honors that should inspire — not alienate — our students. Will our young people still learn about George Mason? Of course.”
Greene was named for a former Chesterfield County teacher, principal and superintendent. Thompson Middle was named for a Chesterfield schools superintendent before being combined with Elkhardt Middle four years ago because of facilities issues. The school is being rebuilt on the former Elkhardt site on Hull Street Road.
Amelia Street School adopted Thirteen Acres School earlier this year, and the school division is looking for a new name for the combined school.
The School Board is scheduled to vote on the four new names at its Dec. 2 meeting.