Newport News Schools looking to possibly rename certain campuses to be more diverse, inclusive

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The Newport News Public Schools district is taking a closer look at the history behind the names of some its campuses.

On Tuesday, School Board members heard a presentation at their meeting about renaming certain schools to be more inclusive.

There are 10 possible schools on the list, but the district is mostly focusing on Horace Epes Elementary, R. O. Nelson Elementary, Lee Hall Elementary and J.M. Dozier Middle School.

School officials said the history behind these campus names doesn’t reflect the district’s values on diversity and inclusion. 

Some board members agree it’s time for a change.

“The sooner the better — there are some things that you do not lag on,” said board member Marvin L. Harris.

Epes Elementary, Nelson Elementary and Dozier Middle school are named after former Newport News educators. Lee Hall is named after Lee Hall mansion.

According to school officials, Horace Epes was a pioneer educator and the first principal of Newport News High School. However, district research shows Epes also served in the Confederate army.

Robert Oliver Nelson was a former Newport News schools superintendent. John Marshall Dozier Jr. was a former Newport News School Board member. School officials say both Nelson and Dozier opted against admitting black students at an elementary school since there was no federal court order to do so, thus prolonging segregation.

Finally, Lee Hall mansion was used as a headquarters for Confederate generals. It was owned by Richard Lee, an affluent farmer who also owned slaves.

Board members said their focus remains on the COVID-19 pandemic and getting students safely back into schools — but they also said this issue needs to be addressed. 

“Why now? In these current times and climate, more people are willing to listen,” said board member Dr. Terri Best.

A community-based diversity and inclusion task force will be formed to further look into these names.

“We would want a diverse group of people. We would want representation from those areas of the city, people who’ve attended those schools and our current students,” said Superintendent Dr. George Parker III.

The district said it will also be looking for public input. That could happen at the next board meeting in September. 

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