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Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022

This fall, the Charlottesville School Board asked elementary students to decide what they want their schools’ names to be. With the votes now in, some officials are having second thoughts.

Here’s how we got here: Charlottesville City Schools decided in 2020 that it would re-evaluate the names of each of its 10 schools. The process was delayed by the arrival of a new superintendent and the pandemic. But it’s underway now.

They are reconsidering Venable and Clark elementary schools first. Of all Charlottesville’s schools, they have probably the most problematic names. Venable is named after Charles S. Venable, a Confederate officer who worked directly under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Clark is named after Brigadier Gen. George Rogers Clark, a military officer who supported white settlers taking land occupied by Indigenous groups, often killing people in the process. Clark also enslaved people on multiple plantations, according to Charlottesville schools. (Last year, the University of Virginia removed a graphic statue of Clark riding toward a cowering Indigenous family.)

The School Naming Committee, appointed City Schools administrators and staff, struggled to choose names to recommend to the board. So, in October, they decided they would give the decision to the elementary students. The committee organized a vote, giving each school two options and space to write in something different.

This is what the students decided:

A large building with steps up to entrance with four columns and words "Venable School"
Credit: Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Charlottesville City Schools asked students to rename their elementary schools — but officials are having second thoughts

These are not the first public institutions’ names that have been reconsidered in the Charlottesville area.

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Albemarle County Public Schools renamed Cale to Mountainview Elementary School in 2019. The school was initially named for former Superintendent Paul H. Cale, who served from 1947 to 1967. During his tenure, Cale argued against desegregation. The school board at the time was also against it.

A smiling woman in corridor looks up, children's art on the walls, flags hanging from the ceiling
Credit: Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Mountain View recommended as new name of Cale Elementary

More recently, some community members have also called for the local Jefferson Madison Regional Library to get a new name. In July, a group of Charlottesville area individuals who are descendants of enslaved people said the library should not be named for historical figures who owned people, as both former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did.

“The time has come to stop honoring the ugly legacy of racism and bigotry,” said Myra Anderson, director of the Reclaimed Roots Descendants Alliance.

But the community discussion over this name change was tense.

Community members clash in tense meeting over whether to remove slaveholding presidents’ names from Jefferson Madison Regional Library

The school board will vote on changing Venable and Clark elementary schools’ names in January. The timeline for the library is less clear. Changing that name would require the approval of all localities participating in the library system — and at least two have already passed resolutions opposing any change.

Thanks for reading today,

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.