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School Board Rescinds Vote Naming School After Segregationist Legislator

© Leesburg Today - 06/23/2015

The Loudoun County School Board voted unanimously to reverse its decision to name a middle school after a politician who may have ushered in racial segregation laws.

It's back to the drawing board for the committee tasked with recommending a name for the next Brambleton middle school, now known as MS-9.

The Loudoun County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to reverse its June 9 decision to name the school after John F. Ryan, former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates who may have ushered in racial segregation laws.

In taking its original action, the board followed the recommendation of a naming committee made up of parents and educators appointed by board members.

But School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg) said the panel should have done more research on Ryan, a Loudoun native who led the Democratic Party in Virginia when it championed segregation laws in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

""Mr. Ryan was clearly the leader of a party that was fractured in many ways,"" Fox said, ""but all agreed on one thing: that African-Americans shouldn't be able to vote.""

All School Board members spoke on the matter Tuesday, stressing that they would not have adopted the name had they known Ryan's legacy.

""As soon as I learned about this, I said, 'Oh my gosh, this has to change,'"" Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said. ""This was a mistake.""

Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said the board was taking the opportunity to right a wrong. ""We can choose a name that doesn't speak of a history that we would rather not have happened. We know better now.""

Phillip Thompson, president of NAACP's Loudoun Branch, was among 10 people who urged the board to drop the name during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting.

""Plain and simple, Mr. Ryan was a segregationist and a racist. It took me 15 minutes to find out this fact, and none of you, our board, could figure that out,"" Thompson told board members. He noted that the former speaker of the House would not have welcomed almost half of the students who attend Loudoun schools because they are racial minorities.

Board members also responded to numerous requests to name the school after Mathias Giordano, the Leesburg student who died of bone cancer Dec. 7. Mathias Giordano Middle School was the naming committee's first alternate choice.

Most board members said that they felt for the members of the Giordano family and supported their efforts to raise awareness about childhood cancer, but that honoring his legacy in a school outside of his home community would not be appropriate.

Fox also said he's ""leery of naming a school after someone who's so recently deceased. … I'd like to honestly see the name come back. But I think the timing is not appropriate.""

Five candidates whose names will be on Loudoun's election ballot this November took the opportunity to weigh in on the matter. Those speakers were Peter Rush, who's running for the 10th House of Delegates District; Eileen Tagg-Murdock, who's seeking the position of county circuit court clerk; Kenya Savage, candidate for the School Board's Dulles District; Joy Maloney, who's running for the School Board's Broad Run District; and the School Board's Leesburg District candidate, Tom Marshall.

The board asked the committee to reconvene and recommend new names for the school, which will open in the fall of 2017.

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