Council to hold public hearing on name change bill

Joanna Chait and Hadley Carr

The DC Council will hold a virtual public hearing Wednesday, October 6, regarding Bill B24-0286, which would change the name of the school to August Wilson High School. 

As an addition to their petition on, on October 1, the DC History and Justice Collective urged community members to testify at the hearing and email members of the Council to reject Chancellor Lewis Ferebee’s proposal of August Wilson. 

The hearing was never officially announced. Tim Hannapel, a co-founder of the collective, found out about the event “on the Twitter feed of the Wilson PTSO in the middle of the night.” 

“We swung into action,” Hannapel said. 

Ruth Wattenberg is Ward 3’s representative on the State Board of Education. Wattenburg encouraged community members to take action in favor of the name August Wilson in a recent email to the community, writing, “August Wilson High School: we’ve waited too long.” 

It is standard practice for the councilmembers who will attend a hearing to provide opening remarks. In tomorrow’s hearing, it is likely that the present councilmembers  will use this time to inform the public of their opinion on the August Wilson High School Designation Act of 2021. 

Members of the public will testify first, followed by representatives from DCPS. Among community members who will testify, is the DC History and Justice Collective, as well as Wilson English teacher Marc Minsker. 

According to Hannapel, community members will be able to submit testimony to the council until October 18. 

Because the public has two additional weeks after the event to submit testimony, the council will not make any final decisions at the hearing. However, following this two-week period, the committee will release its recommendation for the new name of Wilson.

Last May, the DC History and Justice Collective requested a public hearing on the August Wilson Re-designation Act to Chairman of the Whole, councilman Phil Mendelson. 

In their initial email to Mendelson, the collective explained their reasoning: “We are extremely disappointed with the name August Wilson because we think it is less a genuine tribute to a great Black artist than an excuse to avoid the difficult conversations the name change should spark,” 

Likewise, Minsker does not support August Wilson as the new namesake. While August Wilson is relevant, he said, “it’s not specific to the school.” 

The collective feels that August Wilson does not meet the standards established by DCPS for the new name: it is a person, place, or thing; has community support; and is inspirational for generations of students to come.

The collective is in favor of renaming the school to Jackson-Reed, for former Principal Vincent Reed and teacher Edna Jackson’s “direct connection to the school.” The committee added that the “personal [anecdotes] about [their] connection to the school,” served as a compelling argument to reconsider the name change. 

Minsker echoed this sentiment, saying that “the first African-American female teacher at Wilson should be recognized because of what we stand for at this school, in this community.” 

Various Wilson alumni have also sent letters to the DC Council rejecting August Wilson.

“Remembered fondly to this day by alumni, Ms. Jackson’s is a unique legacy at the school, including in her role as the first woman of color to teach there and whose teaching inspired her students to care about history,” Nancy Roth wrote in a letter urging the DC Council to reconsider the proposal to rename the school after August Wilson. 

Roth continued by calling upon the DC Council to use this opportunity to name the school after an influential Black woman. There are currently no high schools in DCPS named after a woman.

Wilson alumna and historian Sarah Shoenfeld’s also wrote to the council, saying that the “public school system has been profoundly shaped by Black women’s education, [and] Ms. Jackson would be the first Black woman to have a DCPS high school named for her.”

            The timeline for Bill B24-0286 will be determined by Mendelson. After the hearing, the Committee of the Whole will produce a report on the bill, suggesting all the scenarios for further action presented through the hearing process.

The Council could have an official vote by the end of the year. •