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APS Presses Ahead With W-L Renaming Process, Despite Lawsuit

Arlington Public Schools is pushing ahead with the process of renaming Washington-Lee High School, just a few weeks after three current students filed a lawsuit to block the move.

The school system opened up applications last night (Thursday) for anyone looking to serve on the committee charged with finding a new name for the high school. The School Board voted two months ago to effectively strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, after calls for a change intensified in the wake of last summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

The Board will ultimately have the final say on a new name, with a vote planned for sometime in December, but the committee will be tasked with developing recommendations on a new moniker. In addition to Principal Gregg Robertson, APS wants the committee to include:

  • Three parent/family representatives
  • Three teacher/staff representative
  • One student for each grade level
  • One representative from each of the four civic associations closest to the school
  • Four alumni, each representing a different decade for the school’s graduating classes, and who are current residents of Arlington County
  • One representative from the Arlington Historical Society who is not an alumni or parent of a current student
  • A staff liaison and facilitator (both non-voting)

APS noted in the announcement of the new committee that “all applications will be considered and applicants will be selected to provide a balance of diverse members on the committee.”

But even the most well-constructed renaming committee is unlikely to satisfy opponents of the change. Some school alumni have fiercely opposed the renaming proposal ever since it was first introduced, culminating in a lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court on July 9 asking a judge to reverse the Board’s decision.

The students argue in the suit that the Board “violated its own procedures” during the June 7 meeting when it voted on the change — the Board first voted to change its naming policies for all schools, then immediately proceeded to a vote on the W-L renaming.

The suit singles out then-Chair Barbara Kanninen as the Board member who “led the process of changing the name” of the school, and for tinkering with the agenda to allow for the immediate vote, a move they argue constitutes a “denial of the procedural opportunity to participate in the promised, and required, community involvement.”

The students also claim that the name change will damage their future prospects for college admission or future employment, as “Washington-Lee has an excellent reputation for academic quality, but… some will not recognize the new name.”

Linda Erdos, an APS spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit, other than to say that the Board and school system believe the renaming decision was “appropriate.”

“Arlington Public Schools will respond in greater detail in the future and in accordance with the court processes,” Erdos told ARLnow.

The Board is hoping to have a new name ready for the school in time for the opening of the 2019-2020 school year next September.

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