Prince William School Board Will Discuss Renaming New Gainesville High School

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13th High School under construction as of May 2020. Image from Prince William County Schools webpage.

Occoquan School Board member Lillie Jessie has requested the Prince William County School Board reconsider the name Gainesville High School for the county’s 13th high school, located on Progress Court in Gainesville. She objected on the grounds that Thomas Gaines, for whom Gainesville was named, was a slave holder.

Jessie put the issue on the agenda for discussion at the Jan. 6 meeting of the Prince William County School Board.

Prince William County School Board voted unanimously in June to use the location of the area to name the school scheduled to open in summer/fall of 2021. The high school is located in the Brentsville District and will serve students in Gainesville and the surrounding area, pulling from Patriot, Battlefield and Unity Reed (formerly Stonewall Jackson) high schools.

Brentsville school board representative Adele Jackson and Gainesville representative Jennifer Wall recommended the name to the board. It was one, if not the top, name suggested and supported by residents of Western Prince William County. There is already a Gainesville Middle School, which is located within a mile of the new high school.

Jessie previously said she is not advocating renaming the town or the middle school.

A spokesperson for Prince William County Schools said there would be a cost to renaming the school even though it has not opened yet. At this point, there will be a cost in changing the schools names as some materials and items have already been purchased for the school. The exact numbers were not available in short time.

Thomas Brawner Gaine, who was a prominent landowner and a slave owner before the Civil War. Gaines donated land for a train station in the area and asked that it would be named for him. Gaines owned a farm in that area from 1847 to 1856. His daughter Somerville Gaines owned the property until her death in 1915.

Many Gainesville residents have never heard of Thomas Gaine, until the controversy arose. In the 1990s the area began a dramatic transformation from a rural and industrial area suburban. It is now home to HOA single-family homes, townhouses, condos, retail, restaurants and even a movie theater.

Jackson said she will still be supporting the name Gainesville, because it represents the areas current residents.

Gainesville is a proud, diverse, and thriving town whose students will become tomorrow’s leaders.  Yes, Gainesville High School was named after a Geographic location, but it represents more than a location on a map.  Gainesville is comprised of families, residents, schools, businesses, and other institutions that share a zip code and a name.  The name Gainesville was nominated and overwhelmingly supported by this community through community input and unanimously voted by School Board. I acknowledge that Virginia’s history is painful, and it is imperative that we address lasting inequities.  The intent was to honor the families and future students of Gainesville who will continue to move our community forward.

Jessie did not provide a comment at the time of publication.

The school renaming issue was eclipsed at Citizen's Time by issues of returning to school and remote accommodations for Tier 1 employees. Only a handful of citizens addressed the renaming of the school.

One man virtually advocated to rename the school as schools should no longer honor slave holders, Confederates or racists. He would prefer they name the school for local heroes.

One African American man said while he supports changing names of schools named for Confederates and slavery is abhorrent to him, he does not believe it is realistic to rename everything connected to slavery.

One woman said that not only is Gainesville an appropriate name based upon the growing community but renaming schools has a high cost. She noted that renaming Stonewall Jackson High School to Unity Reed last year cost $300-400,000. It is money that could have been better spent, she said, in reducing class sizes or other needs.

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