A Virginia public school will no longer bear the name of Thomas Jefferson after the school board voted unanimously Tuesday to rename it following a six-month study.
The vote by the Falls Church School Board means Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School will be renamed, largely due to the fact the two men owned slaves.
Jefferson called slavery a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot” but still owned slaves at his Monticello home. Mason, too, owned slaves, although he called the slave trade “disgraceful to mankind” and said it should not be protected in the U.S. Constitution.
“The Board took seriously the viewpoints and concerns raised by many students, parents, staff, and community members,” said school board chair Greg Anderson. “We thank everyone who shared their perspectives with us and will be mindful of your comments as we now begin selecting names that reflect the diversity of opinions in our community. Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and community members feel safe, supported, and inspired.”
Still, most Americans remember Jefferson and Mason for their accomplishments in founding the nation. Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and was the third president, while Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and a chief sponsor of the Bill of Rights.
Jefferson’s depiction is on Mount Rushmore and the Jefferson Memorial. Mason’s name is part of a well-known college in Virginia (George Mason University).
A survey conducted by the school board showed that a majority of parents and community members wanted the schools to keep their names, although students were more divided. A plurality of staff members also supported the current names.
The move was widely criticized on social media.
“These adults have determined that it’s too ‘unsafe’ for young students to attend a school named after the author of the Declaration of Independence,” tweeted Guy Benson, a Fox News Radio host.
These adults have determined that it’s too ‘unsafe’ for young students to attend a school named after the author of the Declaration of Independence. https://t.co/Lv0jPEHa8f— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) December 9, 2020
Another person tweeted, sarcastically, “I wonder if the cafeteria will allow Caesar salads.”
I wonder if the cafeteria will allow Caesar salads— MicDre (@DreMicDre) December 9, 2020
The estimated cost to rename George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School is $96,760 and $13,500, respectively.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Babryce
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.