Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield.
Photo via Google Maps
"School names will reflect an inclusive and respectful learning environment as outlined in our One Fairfax policy," said Lee District School Board Representative Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Fairfax County Public Schools.
Elected representatives on the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board resumed the process of considering to rename Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield. Built in 1958 as Lee High School, the name officially changed in 1964 to Robert E. Lee High School, after an American and Confederate soldier, best known as a commander of the Confederate States Army. The current multistep renaming process was interrupted when, on March 23, Governor Northam directed all schools in the Commonwealth closed, effective 11:59 p.m., March 24 through the end of the academic school year, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As the County reopened under Phase Two of the Governor's Forward Virginia Plan, the FCPS Board rescheduled public comments on the renaming of Lee High School. A virtual Public Hearing is scheduled for June 22, 4 p.m. Members of the public are welcome to attend at https://www.fcps.edu/tv/ch99. Community members who wish to speak at the public hearing can sign up to speak (https://www.fcps.edu/school-board/citizen-participation). Community members can also share their comments via email to Region3admin@fcps.edu.
According to FCPS BoardDocs, eighty-six names representing individuals and those speaking on behalf of groups or organizations such as the Secretary of Student Government and President NAACP Club, Class of 2022 President, SURJ Northern Virginia, Fairfax County Democratic Committee and others are listed.
"We are in a particular moment in time where we cannot ignore the weight of racism and the disparities it produces... Confederate symbols, names and practices that uphold systemic racism must be removed...One Fairfax requires us to remove these names and dig deeper to address disparities within our system. We can, and we must," said School Board Member-at-Large Karen Keys-Gamarra.
ON TUESDAY, June 23, during the School Board's regular business meeting, the Board is scheduled to take action on whether or not to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School. According to FCPS, "If the Board votes to proceed, Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand will bring a recommendation to the Board on a new name for the school as a new business item at the June 23 meeting. If the Board does not vote to proceed, the process will end."
The Fairfax County School Board may rename a school if it determines it is appropriate to do so. Action is initiated through a Board forum topic by at least one magisterial School Board member representing students attending that facility and one at-large School Board member. The renaming process began when Lee District School Board Member Tamara Derenak Kaufax and School Board Member-at-Large Karen Keys-Gamarra requested the Board considers to begin the renaming process. In their Forum Topic Request, submitted Feb. 5, they wrote: "In accordance with our updated School Naming Policy 8170.6…School Names will reflect an inclusive, respectful learning environment as outlined in our adopted One Fairfax Policy – as such we believe it is now time to rename Robert E. Lee High School. We are asking the Board to consider to begin the renaming process as outlined in our Regulation 8170."
THE SCHOOL BOARD indicated support for moving forward at its Feb. 20 Meeting.
"Our School Board is committed to fostering a caring and inclusive culture. We cannot live up to that standard if we force students to attend schools named in honor of the racist vestiges of our past — especially as we seek to combat racism in our present," said Karl Frisch, the Providence District Representative on the Fairfax County School Board.
On March 11, before Covid-19 shut down the region, the School Board held a Community Meeting to gather feedback on the proposal to rename the school. It invited community members to submit their suggestions online and via email. Feedback has been posted online (https://www.fcps.edu/node/41209).
"Critics will say this is an attempt to erase history, but this is not the case at all. We understand this was a part of our history, but it is not a part of our future. Confederate values do not align with our community," said Kaufax.