Prince William County schools Superintendent Steve Walts said Friday that the school division should rename a high school and middle school named after Stonewall Jackson. The move would require action by the school board.
Walts’ comments come after a week of protests in Prince William County following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The school division has also had to respond in recent days to racist comments allegedly made by staff at two schools in recent days.
On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the state would be removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond.
Stonewall Jackson High School and Stonewall Middle School, both in the Manassas area, are named after the Confederate general.
“It is an insult and an affront to our students, especially in schools where the majority of the students are students of color,” Walts said in a statement Friday.
He also called on the school board to ban wearing or flying of the Confederate flag on school property.
“This behavior is often meant to intimidate students of color, and as such, it is a disruption to the educational environment,” Walts said. “Incidents in the past have made students extremely uncomfortable, the opposite of my vision for our schools.”
Walts also proposed creating a community panel to review the school division’s agreement with the Prince William County Police and make recommendations if necessary.
“Our law enforcement partners are critical to the safety of all our students and employees and we thank them for their service,” Walts said. “We recognize, however, that the relationship between police and all the members of our school community is not always perceived positively.”
Walts said there likely would be more changes to come. “As educators, we must continue to find the means to lend our voices for those who cannot be heard,” he said.
Walts’ advisory council on equity will continue to make recommendations about a variety of issues, he said, such as access, curriculum. He noted all staff are required to complete culturally responsive instruction training.
SCHOOL BOARD RESPONDS TO FLOYD DEATH
The Prince William County School Board released a statement Friday the board “shares the community's sadness, anger, and frustration with the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black Americans. We are shocked and disturbed by these events. We stand in solidarity with Americans everywhere who have been outraged by these events, and with the peaceful protesters who have sparked a national dialogue that must take place.”
“We are encouraged by the diversity of young adults and students participating in these protests. Prince William County School’s greatest strength is our diversity, and we must build on that,” according to the school board statement.
The school board announced its goal to “pursue concrete ideas to engage our students, the leaders of the next generation, in constructive dialogue.” The school board is committed to expanding cultural competency and implicit training for school division employees and students.
“We will insist on compliance with our nondiscrimination policies, institute curricular improvements to address cultural sensitivity so that all voices are heard, and seek to recruit and hire faculty and staff who reflect the diversity of our community,” according to the statement. “We will also seek out more opportunities for our students to have a voice with our law enforcement, elected officials, and members of our school administration.”