Council awaits vote on name change bill

Joanna Chait

The DC Council will hold a hearing and vote on the Mayor’s bill to name the school after playwright August Wilson. 

This next step in the process is called a “first reading,” consisting of a hearing and then a vote, although the date of the event is not yet determined. 

Titled B24-0286, the bill in question was written by the Mayor. It was introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson at the request of the Mayor through DCPS, on May 28. 

This legislation introduces the “August Wilson High School Designation Act of 2021”, which would officially re-name the school. 

On June 1, the bill was referred to the Committee of the Whole, and on June 4, the Notice of Intent to Act on the bill was published in the District of Columbia Register.

The bill is not on the meeting agenda for the legislative session on June 15, meaning there will be more time before further action is taken. This is partly because Chairman Mendelson’s Office has received complaints about the nomination, August Wilson. Mendelson is reluctant to move forward with the bill and wants to hold a formal hearing. 

Regardless, the bill requires a simple majority; seven members have to vote in favor of the bill twice. However, not all of the councilmembers are in support of renaming the school after August Wilson. 

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie would prefer to name the school after an educator with a connection to the school, like Edna Jackson or Vincent Reed. Edna Jackson is his top choice because there are no DCPS high schools named after a Black woman.

The other councilmembers’ stance on the August Wilson Designation Act of 2021 remains largely unknown. 

Some community members are pushing for a quick implementation of the new bill. In the letter from the Mayor to Chairman Mendelson, Bowser urges the Council “to take prompt and favorable action on this legislation.” Likewise, Ward 3 representative on the DC State Board of Education, Ruth Wattenerg is pushing for Wilson’s name to be changed promptly. 

In agreement with Wattenburg, “Let’s not start the school year in name purgatory,” said Principal Kimberly Martin.  

According to Martin, if the legislative process is complete by July, the new name will take effect at the beginning of the next school year. However, the likely outcome is that “full implementation of the new name [will not occur] until November or December,” said Martin in an LSAT meeting.

The legislation also requires mayoral approval: Bowser can sign it into law, take no action, or use a veto. 

The latter seems unlikely; Mayor Bowser supports DCPS’s decision to rename the school after Woodrow Wilson. In the bill, she says, “I agree with the community that August Wilson better represents Washingtonian principles and the rich legacy and activism of the school community.” The Mayor goes on to discuss the playwright’s significance: “August Wilson’s dramas have graced the stages of Washington, DC for decades.” 

According to the DC Council website, after the first reading, the bill will have a final reading, in which, “The full Council then debates, possibly amends, and ultimately votes on the legislation for a second time.”

In order to put the bill into law, it must have a Fiscal Impact Statement (FIS), which determines the cost of implementation. Typically, a FIS is provided after the bill is introduced. The name-change legislation does not currently have a FIS.

The bill will then receive mayoral approval followed by congressional review, before officially becoming a law. •