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Divisions arise over renaming of Burnley-Moran and Johnson elementary schools

Charlottesville parents, students and school officials can’t agree on the renaming of Burnley-Moran and Johnson elementary schools in the city.

The schools are the latest pair to come up for consideration as the school division proceeds with its plan to review every school name based on modern standards and values. Of the two schools that already have been reviewed, both were renamed.

“I think the students are very connected to the school name,” said Benjamin Thompson, a former Johnson student whose mother serves as its principal, during a Zoom forum hosted by Charlottesville City Schools on Thursday.

Johnson Elementary was named after James G. Johnson, who served as the superintendent of city schools from 1909 until 1946, while the division was racially segregated.

“I just want to make sure that we’re not erasing the name of one or two good women,” said Chuck Moran during the forum.

Moran’s great-aunt Sarepta is the Moran in Burnley-Moran. She was one of the first two women to lead a Charlottesville school, having served as the principal of Venable Elementary. She was also an active member in the Albemarle chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Carrie Burnley was also among the first female leaders of a Charlottesville school, serving as principal of the former McGuffey School. Burnley was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. As principal of McGuffey, she invited students to decorate the statues of Confederate generals downtown that later led to division and were removed.

Raymond Smith, one of Burnley’s descendants on his mother’s side, said too much has been made of the women’s involvement in the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The schools, he said, were not named because the women were involved in a group that perpetuated the South’s Lost Cause or racist ideology.

“They were named because they’re feminists,” Smith, who lives in Indiana, said during the forum.

One parent said the question isn’t about whether Burnley, Moran or Johnson were good or bad, but about whether naming schools after people is advisable at all given changing social mores.

“We don’t have to argue if your relatives are good or bad people. We just need to recognize that naming schools after people is not a great practice,” said Kate Hutchinson.

One parent of a Burnley-Moran student said she was entirely unaware of the history of the school names until the division began reviewing those names.

“Until this survey came out, I had never even looked into it,” Madeline Hawks said.

After looking into it, she said she supported renaming.

“I’m in favor of going away from naming things after people,” she said.

Hawks and Hutchinson belong to a majority of the community who have said in an ongoing survey it supports renaming the schools.

To date, 61.9% of respondents to that open community survey said they strongly favor changing the name of Burnley-Moran, according to city schools data. A little more than half of survey respondents have said that Johnson should be renamed.

Most survey respondents said they wanted Burnley-Moran to be renamed Blue Mountain, Blue Ridge Mountain or Rivanna. Forest Hills was the most popular choice for Johnson’s new name, followed by Cherry Avenue.

Charlottesville City Schools is reviewing the names of all of its schools in pairs, moving from the first schools it built to the last. Each school’s name will be considered by the renaming committee with input from the community before the school board votes on possible new names. So far, Venable Elementary has been renamed Trailblazers and Clark Elementary has been renamed Summit.


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