After a controversial two month public debate over changing the name of Sidney Lanier Middle School, tributed to a Confederate poet and soldier, the City of Fairfax School Board voted on Monday to officially change the name.
The school board vote was 4-1, with School Board member Mitch Sutterfield being the only member who voted against changing the name.
Sutterfield compared Lanier to Mark Twain, an American writer and member of a Confederate militia. He claims that both Lanier and Twain regretted their participation in the Confederacy. Another middle school in Fairfax County, Mark Twain Middle School, is named after the Confederate soldier.
Over the last two months the public has been able to speak at public hearings or submit written comments. All speakers and a large majority of commenters supported changing SLMS’s name.
In a previous interview with the Fairfax County Times, School Board Chairman Carolyn Pitches said that she was most interested in listening to the student perspective on the potential name change.
“In the interest of Lanier Middle School students, it is time that we find a new name,” Pitches said in the school board meeting. “One that is more representative of the community.”
This vote comes after the school board voted in July to change Robert E. Lee High School to John R. Lewis High School, after the late Congressman John Lewis, who passed away in July. Fairfax High School also changed their mascot in June from “rebel pride” to the “Fairfax lions,” originating from the school’s first mascot of a Confederate soldier named Johnny Reb.
Students from the newly renamed JLHS advocated for SLMS’s name change on behalf of the school’s student body. They said that these students should be represented by someone they can look up to.
Today is the last day to submit new name suggestions, which can be submitted through email or on the city’s website.The school board will vote on a new name for SLMS this fall which will officially go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year.