The renaming of a Prince William County, Virginia, school is evoking outrage in some people and causing police to investigate a racist message.
News4’s David Culver reported the Prince William County school board voted to rename Godwin Middle School, in Dale City, Virginia, after an African-American community leader. They also voted to name an elementary school bulit on a site offered by the Ferlazzo family after a county fire firefighter who lost his life in a 2007 blaze.
While trying to figure out a name for the "Ferlazzo" location and torn between the two men, Justin Wilk, a school board member, said he had an idea.
“I think, and I’m going to propose this, you can hate me, whatever, I think it’s the best alternative,” Wilk said during a March meeting. “Right now, there’s a school where kids walking in 78 percent minority, and the name of building is after a segregationist governor in Dale City, Godwin Middle School.”
The school was originally named for Mills Edwin Godwin Jr., of Chuckatuck, Virginia, who governor of Virginia for two non-consecutive terms, from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1978.
Culver reported Wilk wanted the Godwin name to be changed to honor Dr. George Hampton, an African-American community leader and Army veteran, while naming the "Ferlazzo" location after Kyle Wilson, a firefighter who was killed in 2007 while fighting a house fire. The board voted to support Wilk’s plan during the March meeting.
However, some in the area were dismayed by the decision and felt like it caught the community off guard.
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One person posted on InsideNova’s Facebook page, “Poor judgment on Prince William County. Godwin should never have even been up for change. It was not on public agenda. Poor, poor decisions. I will be putting a petition to keep Godwin.”
Another posted, “Wow, if one of my old schools was arbitrarily changed, I’d be disappointed.”
Culver reported one person went even farther with their reaction by putting a Confederate flag and racial slur inside the mailbox of Wilk’s home. Police are investigating the racial response and working to find the people involved in the threat.
“When the democratic process is playing out, you get some people whose voices are raised in an unfortunate way,” said Phil Kavits, the spokesperson for the county schools. “I know that’s become controversial, but hopefully at the end of the day, the focus is going to return to what is going to be the inspiring name for the students who will be attending that school in the future.”
Kavits says a meeting Wednesday night will allow others in the community to voice their concerns.
“They’ll come, and the school board will hear what they have to say and make a change or go forward,” Kavits said.
Culver attempted to speak with Wilk and was referred to the spokesman. He also tried speaking to Hamption, who declined commenting, citing the negative responses, saying it wasn’t the right time.