DATE:June 15, 2020
CONTACT:Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
Sutherland Community Advisory Committee Votes to Change School’s Name; New Community Survey Seeks Input on Three Names Chosen as Finalists
(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – The Sutherland Community Advisory Committee decided last week to recommend to the Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas, that the name of their school be changed.
The committee’s action follows an opinion survey that asked members of the school’s community for their top three preferences among a list of 10 suggested names. Throughout the process, nearly 1,900 names were suggested for the school. Three of those, Lakeside, Rivanna, and Willow Creek, were selected last week by the committee as finalists.
A new survey asking for opinions on the three finalist names became operational today and can be accessed at https://survey.k12insight.com/r/HfWWNH.
Not among the names on the finalist list is the name that generated the most support in previous surveys, the school’s current name of Mortimer Y. Sutherland.
The School Board policy governing school naming reviews requires that in the event a school is to be named for an individual, community advisory committees must determine if the person’s personal and professional life exemplified the school division’s four core values of excellence, young people, community, and respect.
Sutherland was a teacher and later a principal in the school division, retiring in 1946. Between 1954 and 1962, he served on the Albemarle County School Board and then the Board of Supervisors.
In recent deliberations, Sutherland advisory committee members referenced research documents on Sutherland’s votes and actions while a member of the Board of Supervisors. They consulted documents originally produced as part of the work by the Cale Advisory Committee last year. These documents confirmed that in 1963, Sutherland was the lone vote on the Board of Supervisors to uphold a ban on all school athletic and social activities if they resulted in joint participation by white and black students.
As both a member of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors between 1954 and 1963, Sutherland faithfully supported resistance to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to end school segregation. The county’s public schools were not fully integrated until 15 years after the court established school desegregation as the law of the land.
Sutherland also sought to re-appoint a member of the School Board (in those days, School Board members were appointed by the Board of Supervisors) who supported the segregation of white and black children for athletic and social activities. He did not receive a second on his motion, and the attempt to re-appoint the School Board member did not succeed.
Jasmine Fernández, who serves as the committee leader and liaison to the school division, said, “All the advisory committee members were very appreciative of the input they received from our two public opinion surveys and two public meetings. What stood out was that the majority of respondents in our first poll said the school’s name should be based upon its location, but at the same time, a majority also favored Sutherland as the school’s name.”
The three finalists on the committee’s list all reflect the school’s location and one, Willow Creek, was a top choice of students.
In addition to Sutherland students, parents, staff, and community members who participated in the surveys and public meetings, the advisory committee also sought the views of the Baker-Butler, Hollymead, and Stony Point communities, which are elementary feeder schools into Sutherland.
“I think one of the issues for all of these school communities is that Mr. Sutherland was a public figure more than a half-century ago, and not much is known about his views on education during a time when access to education was not equal for black students. At the same time, the name of a school is understandably valued in a community if it is the only school name they ever have known,” said Fernández. “The committee had a difficult decision to make, but they made it thoughtfully in view of the school division’s values and those of the school,” she added.
The committee found it impossible, Fernández said, to justify Sutherland’s consistent opposition to school integration. “It is hard to reconcile this stance with any of the division’s four values or with the division’s anti-racism policy. Keeping the name of a school that also is the name of someone who adamantly voted against the inclusion of black students is counter to the mission of an anti-racist organization,” she said.
Following the results of the current survey, the committee will reconvene to select a name that will be recommended to Dr. Haas for his consideration. In turn, he will make a recommendation to the School Board, which will make the ultimate determination of the school’s new name. In the event the committee is unable to agree on a single name, Dr. Haas will choose a name from among the three finalists.
The school division has created a School Naming Review website to enable members of the public to track the progress of all school naming reviews. The site provides information on relevant School Board policy and the school naming review process. The page that contains all the information compiled to date on the Sutherland naming review, including survey results, can be accessed at https://www.k12albemarle.org/acps/division/school-naming-review/Pages/Sutherland-Middle-School.aspx.
Information that was considered by the advisory committee prior to making their decision last week included research submitted to the Cale Community Advisory Committee, which can be accessed at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mEAYTwsL_Ad0rYqscFZMedeULI_eNg5v/view?usp=sharing, as well as information from Correcting the Narrative, which was compiled by a member of the Sutherland community and can be accessed at http://correctingthenarrative.org/posts/sutherland/Mortimer_Yates_Sutherland_Jr.pdf.