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Prince William School Board Chairman calls for renaming Stonewall Jackson schools for ‘real heroes’

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY — An online fundraiser to rename Stonewall Jackson Senior high and middle schools in Prince William County launched Wednesday.


Ryan Sawyers, the county’s At-large School Board Chairman, a Democrat who is now seeking a seat in Congress, issued a rallying cry to supporters calling for the name changes after this past weekend’s violent white nationalist protests in Charlottesville where three people died.

“When we name a school after someone we honor and celebrate that person. These schools were named in a time when Brown v. Board of Education, integration, and the Civil Rights Act were being implemented across our country. Under the false rhetoric of ‘heritage,’ these schools were, in fact, named after a Confederate icon as a “thumb in the eye” to Federal actions ending their continued racial segregation of public schools,” Sawyers stated.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a Confederate general and is regarded by historians as one of the most gifted military commanders in U.S. history. Jackson fought at the 1st and 2nd battles of Manassas during the Civil War and later died at age 39 after a battle in Chancellorsville outside Fredericksburg.

Stonewall Middle School, located at 10100 Lomond Drive near Manassas opened in 1964 and is home to 1,140 students. Stonewall Jackson Senior High School, located at 8820 Rixlew Lane near Manassas, opened in 1973, is home to 2,400 students, and the county’s International Baccalaureate Program.

Both schools serve a predominantly Hispanic student population, according to school data profiles on the county school website for the middle and high schools.

In a statement, Sawyers said the school should be named for the “real heroes” who died in Charlottesville over the weekend. Heather Heyer, 32, was a protester who struck and killed when a car plowed into a sea of protesters in which she was standing.

Two Virginia State Police Troopers — pilot M.M. Burke, 41, who graduated from Brentsville District High School in Prince William in 1994, and Lt. Jay Cullen, 48, who was assigned to the state police aviation base at the Manassas Regional Airport in 1999 — were both killed when the helicopter they were using to monitor the protests in Charlottesville crashed Saturday outside the city limits.

Sayers aims to raise private money to rename the schools and needs $750,000. Renaming the middle school will cost $250,000 while the cost to rename the high school will top as much as half a million dollars. By 8:40 p.m. Thursday the fundraiser had collected $1,200, with $1,000 of the funds collected submitted by an anonymous donor.

Acting School Board member Shawn Brann, of the Brentsville District in which the school sits, could not be reached for comment. Gainesville District School Board representative Alyson Satterwhite, who represents Stonewall Middle School, had no comment on the matter.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, who during his run for state governor this spring rallied to keep statues honoring Confederate generals in Charlottesville, could not be reached for comment.

The move to rename both schools comes after the school board in 2016 successfully changed the name of Mills E. Godwin Middle School in Dale City to George Hampton Middle School. Sawyers, along with other school board members, said Godwin — who is known as the “education governor” who created the Virginia Community College System — didn’t deserve the building named after him because he supported “massive resistance” in the 1960s and barred black children from being integrated into the public school system.

Godwin, a Democrat who served in the Virginia Senate from 1952 to 1962, changed his stance on the issue in 1960, before becoming governor five years later.

Following the renaming of Godwin Middle School, the school board passed new rules when it comes to naming a new school or renaming an existing facility.

Now, a school naming committee must take the following into account when formulating a school name:

— Identifiable existing geographic considerations;

— Historical considerations; and

— Names of deceased or living person(s) who have made local, state, or national service contributions. Selection preference shall be given to those individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of education, especially within Prince William County

Sawyers and Brann would sit on a renaming committee for the high school, while Sawyers and Gainesville School Board representative Alyson Satterwhite would sit on a committee to rename the middle school.

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