Board Reaffirms Commitment to Inclusion and Celebration of Diversity
Board Commits to Establish a Naming Criteria and to Review all APS School Names
At the beginning of the Arlington School Board meeting on Thursday, August 17, 2017, the Board observed a Moment of Silence to remember the lives of Heather Heyer, Virginia State Patrol Pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, and Virginia State Trooper Berke Bates, as well as the many others who were physically or emotionally injured by the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. Afterwards, School Board Chair Dr. Barbara Kanninen made the following statement on behalf of the School Board members:
“As members of the Board and the community, all of us know students who will be attending the University of Virginia this fall. We know that this week’s events have touched and deeply concerned them, their families, and our full community. Charlottesville is our neighbor. It is a great and peaceful place, and we are with them at this very difficult time.
“We, the Arlington School Board, join our Governor and state leaders, many national leaders and our local leaders, friends, and neighbors in rejecting the hate, racism, bigotry, and violence that was forced on Charlottesville this past weekend. As a school system, we stand for, and are committed to, inclusion and the celebration of our diversity. We understand the urgency: we must re-double our efforts to ensure that every child is supported and knows that he or she can, and will, excel in our schools.
“We also know that we need to ask ourselves some important questions. This year, our newest elementary school, Alice West Fleet Elementary, was named in honor of an Arlington teacher, an African-American woman who faced and defeated many obstacles. The recently-opened Discovery Elementary honors the astronaut, John Glenn, who lived in the neighborhood. And Campbell Elementary honors an Arlington couple, Edmund and Elizabeth, who fought for the de-segregation of Arlington’s schools. These school names – the newest in our system – are different from past school names in terms of the kinds of people and work we choose to honor. Going forward, we will soon be naming the new school buildings at the Wilson site and Stratford site. We have high school projects at the Education Center and Career Center that will all need names.
“Given all this, it is simply clear to us as a Board that now is the time. It’s time to talk about the names of our schools, and what they mean, and why they matter. It is time to talk about the values these names reflect and the messages we are sending to our children.
“Having said that, let me make a few things clear. First, and foremost, no decisions have been made – or will be made – on any school name quickly or without extensive community input and discussion.
“We are the governing body of a 27,000-student school system and we will address this issue as we do all issues – using a careful, deliberative process that is fully transparent and involves extensive community engagement, research, and collaboration. We will not focus on any one particular school and ask, should we change the name of this school? Instead, we will seek to establish naming criteria that reflect our values. This allows us to talk about all of our school names – current and future – and to clarify where the lines are drawn between what we, as a community, consider acceptable and unacceptable. Establishing criteria prevents us from falling into the slippery slope problem. It will keep us focused on facts, not opinions.
“Please note that, as we commit to a naming process this evening, we are also steaming ahead toward the first day of school when approximately 27,000 students will walk through our school doors to start their year of learning. We, the School Board, the Superintendent, Executive Leadership Team, principals, teachers, and staff have worked hard all summer to prepare for a very full agenda of policy revisions, community processes, budgeting, capital planning, strategic planning, and, most importantly, teaching our students every day.
“We are committed to this community conversation but it will take time and resources to get it right. As the governing body of our school system, we have to be careful and deliberate. We have to ask the right questions to ensure a productive process. We have to bring a wide range of voices to the table. We have to do research and we have to follow a transparent process to ensure everyone in this community understands how and why decisions have been made. This process will take time, but the important point today is that we are getting started.
“As always, we look forward to hearing from you and working with you. Please continue to write and call with your ideas and thoughts. We thank you for giving us the privilege of serving this great community and we look forward to our discussions together.”
To read the County Board’s statement, click here.