As this week marks the end of the school year for the Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS), it will be remembered as probably the most challenging and exhausting in the system’s history. Incredible pressures were put on the system by the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the national arousal, triggered by the murder of George Floyd a year ago, of a new, passionate intolerance for racism in our national culture including among thoughtful young people of public school age.
For so many students in the Falls Church school system, their strong reaction against institutional racism and injustice had been the focus of the strong principles underlying the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that was launched here decades ago and more recently had been expanded to cover the entire K-12 curriculum. Issues of justice, fairness and character are embedded in the IB culture spread throughout the Falls Church school system. So it was heartening to see the biggest spontaneous march in the history of our Little City to protest racism and injustice last summer led by students from George Mason High School. (A replication of that march is scheduled for today at 3 p.m.)
That march, led by our students who drew thousands of City residents with them, inspired a new level of commitment to equality in Falls Church that quickly called out the fact that two of the City’s public schools were named for historical figures that, in fact, owned and brutally dispatched fellow human beings as slaves. George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, the historical record could not dispute, were owners of many Black persons who came into their possession as victims of the murderous slave trade.
It was not out of weakness, but out of the greatest expressions of moral strength that Falls Church’s school system leadership responded positively to appeals for changing the names of those schools, against enormous opposition from those favoring perpetuating local traditions over a higher calling of moral suasion. Doing the morally right thing is never subject to determination by a popular majority and it took uncommon fortitude for the Falls Church schools’ leadership to press ahead under very adverse circumstances last fall, and its courageous resolve was not diminished.
Lengthy deliberations and public input led to near-unanimous votes by the School Board were taken to implement the name changes, to Meridian and Oak Street School, that will now go into effect on July 1.
Similarly, the system’s leadership, the School Board and its employee, a sturdy and wise Superintendent Peter Noonan, did not kowtow this year to pressure brought by some parents to violate the public health guidance they were provided. They remained steadfast in their commitment to putting public health at the forefront of their pandemic mitigation policies on behalf of the students and staff under their care.