DCPS releases Wilson name-change survey following council resolution

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Photo courtesy of Winston Botts

Winston Botts

DC’s City Council passed a resolution on October 21 to rename Woodrow Wilson High School after 85 years of the school being named after the 28th president of the United States. As a result, DCPS has created a survey for members of the Wilson community to submit nominations for possible name replacements.

According to Chairman Mendelson’s report published on October 4, “President Wilson’s racism had a disproportionate impact on our city. While it may be appropriate to name a public school elsewhere after President Wilson because of his great accomplishments, it is not appropriate [to] have one of our high schools named after this public figure.” Mendelson remarks that Wilson’s legacy is “antagonistic” and “harmful” to the local values of a public school located in a city with more than 40% African American population.

Mendelson claims that Woodrow Wilson had a great reputation as a progressive president, which would make a school with his namesake appropriate in some other communities. However, Mendelson believes that Wilson’s segregationist policies, including segregating federal government and perpetuating Jim Crow law throughout DC, make honoring him with a DCPS school not only inappropriate but harmful to the values of the school’s community.

Other members of DC Council have agreed with Mendelson that a DC school should not be named after a figure with such a racist legacy, but have implored Mendelson to reconsider his praise of Wilson in the report. Mendelson’s report includes some reverence towards Woodrow Wilson, such as the statement “Many historians consider President Wilson to be in the top tier of Presidents in the history of the United States.”

Shortly after releasing his initial report, Mendelson revised the report to exclude any language deemed unsuitable for describing Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. After Mendelson’s revisions, DC Council passed their resolution (initially proposed in July of 2020) and began the process of selecting a replacement name for Wilson.

Upon DC Council passing a resolution to rename the school, DCPS Central Office began community outreach to assess the best name to replace Woodrow Wilson. DCPS is currently in the process of gauging the community’s decision for the school’s new name by having Central Office representatives attend stakeholder meetings such as the Wilson Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) and Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO).   

DCPS has also opened a survey to all members of the Wilson community to generate a list potential names for the school until October 30. The survey provides specific criteria for name change candidates. According to the survey, nominees must have significantly contributed to society, lend prestige to a learning institution, embody the DCPS vision, have not perpetrated any racist or sexist acts, be two years deceased unless they have been President or Vice President of the US, a US Senator or Representative, a DC Mayor, or DC Councilmember, and their name and surname must be used.

After the survey closes on October 30th DCPS will begin vetting the nominated names to produce a shortlist of candidates for the official name-change. The school’s name is set to be changed by the end of December this year.