W-L graduation 2017 4

Washington-Lee High School Class of 2017 president Thomas Salotti, class speaker Niki Kowsar and class vice president Benjamin Brooks share the stage during graduation ceremonies on June 21 at D.A.R. Constitution Hall. (Photo by Paul Lara)

Some will see it as providing time for more community engagement an effort to reach consensus, others will deride it as simply kicking the can down the road.

Either way, Arlington school officials appear ready to tap the brakes before coming to a decision about keeping or dumping the name of Washington-Lee High School.

A new staff proposal detailed on Feb. 1 would delay until December or January any School Board decision on the name, which has divided the school community, alumni and some activists.

The action would split off the Washington-Lee issue from the related matter of naming criteria for new schools, a process that will move on a faster track.

The decision to split up the effort is designed to “be respectful of the input we heard” on both sides of the W-L debate, said Linda Erdos, the school system’s assistant superintendent of school and community relations.

The public “wanted more time for discussion,” Erdos told School Board members.

Under the new timeline, School Board members would name a separate committee on the name of Washington-Lee over the summer. The group would work for several months before offering a recommendation – if consensus is possible – to School Board members in the fall.

If board members opt to rename the school, another community-engagement process would be started, with a decision on the name slated for late 2020 or early 2021.

School Board Chairman Barbara Kanninen said the revised timeline “gives the community time to participate and weigh in and make sure we are hearing from everyone.”

(It also pushes the contentious issue beyond the November 2018 election; Kanninen, who holds the lone School Board seat going to the voters this year, plans to seek a second term, but has yet to pick up opposition.)

Kanninen’s County Board counterpart – Chairman Katie Cristol – said the county government stands ready to aid in the process, if asked.

“We can be ‘thought partners,’” Cristol said. “We can provide some help.”

A small group of local residents had hectored School Board members for years about the name of Arlington’s oldest high school, but gained little traction until last August, when events in Charlottesville led School Board members to agree to study the matter.

Erdos, who is overseeing the process developing policy changes on school naming, said the Washington-Lee matter should be broken off for separate consideration so it does not sidetrack the other proposals being developed.

The Washington-Lee issue “dominated a lot of the conversation,” Erdos acknowledged.

Under the plan, committees will be set up in the fall to develop name ideas for new schools that are in the construction pipeline.

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