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School board advances W.T. Woodson High School renaming

W.T. Woodson High School is getting renamed (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County Public Schools is moving forward with a name change for W.T. Woodson High School.

The Fairfax County School Board voted 10-0 with two members absent on Thursday (Oct. 12) to drop former FCPS superintendent Wilber Tucker Woodson as the namesake of the 61-year-old school at 9525 Main Street outside Fairfax City.

The decision came after a month of public outreach in settings both formal — as in a public hearing on Oct. 10 — and informal, according to Braddock District School Board Representative Megan McLaughlin, who brought the issue to the full board last month.

“As a two-generation Woodson family, resident, homeowner, I continue to hold incredible pride for the school and to be a part of this community,” McLaughlin said. “But I also hope that, in our community conversations with each other and having spoken with leaders of our athletic boosters, with our [parent teacher student organization] leaders, with our student leaders, there has been quite an understanding that…as a board and a body, we know how important it is to have names on a building that can inspire all students, our staff and our community.”

As superintendent from 1929 to 1961, Woodson oversaw FCPS during a pivotal period of growth, but the recent discovery of a letter where he denounced integration gave momentum to calls for a name change, including from members of the Black Student Union, McLaughlin previously told FFXnow.

Opposition to renaming the school slightly outweighed support in an online survey that received 1,415 responses from Sept. 15 to noon on Oct. 12, according to a presentation that Superintendent Michelle Reid gave to the school board at Thursday’s meeting.

The balance was tipped mostly by self-identified alumni, some of them old enough to recall “positive interactions” with Woodson as he stayed present in the community after his retirement, McLaughlin said. Concerns included the potential cost and the “very strong connection” some felt to the existing name.

However, a majority of parents or caregivers and “other” respondents — a category that encompassed students, staff and miscellaneous community members — said they are “very likely” to support a name change, which was also favored by all but one of the handful of individuals who testified at the Oct. 10 public hearing.

In a statement read by at-large member Abrar Omeish since she had to leave before the renaming vote came up, the school board’s student representative Rida Karim, a junior at Woodson, said her discussions with fellow students indicated most of them support a change as “a crucial step towards fostering a more inclusive environment.”

“The potential of renaming W.T. Woodson represents a significant step towards justice and unity,” Karim said in the statement. “It serves as a reminder that our present should not be constrained or defined by the past, and a new school name would embody the strength of our community, our compassion and a belief in our commitment to providing for each student, irrespective of their background.”

After last week’s vote, FCPS has shifted into a second phase of community engagement to determine the school’s new name.

The school board proposed Carter G. Woodson, a Virginia native known as the “father of Black history.” More than 450 survey respondents said they would support that, but 369 people suggested alternatives, led by nine submissions of Little River High School in reference to the school’s location near Little River Turnpike.

An online form for feedback and questions on the renaming is now open through Nov. 1. FCPS will hold a community meeting at Woodson High School on Monday, Oct. 23 at 6:30 p.m. and a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 24. The school board is set to vote on the new name on Nov. 9.