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Richmond school district to rename three schools named for Confederates

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The Richmond School Board on Monday evening voted 5-3 to rename three schools that are named for Confederates: John B. Cary Elementary, Ginter Park Elementary and Binford Middle.

The Confederates for which the schools are named “may not be as well known as some of the others, but they played just as much a heinous role in the trafficking of human beings as the others and … I feel that the namesake of a school actually does set the tone for that school,” said Richmond School Board member Stephanie Rizzi, who represents the 5th District.

“When you … attend a school that’s named after someone you have pride in, it definitely can affect how you feel about that building and whether you feel welcomed or not.”

John B. Cary Elementary is named for Col. John Barry Cary, who was the school division’s superintendent from 1886 to 1889 and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Ginter Park Elementary is technically named for the neighborhood that it serves, but the neighborhood is named for Maj. Lewis Ginter, who joined the Confederate army in 1861, rising to the rank of major while serving under Gen. A.P. Hill.

Ginter later became a prominent Richmond businessman and developer and the driving force behind building the Jefferson Hotel. His name is also memorialized by Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Henrico County, which was established with funds bequeathed by his niece Grace Arents.

Binford Middle is named for James H. Binford, recognized by RPS as the first superintendent of the school division. He enlisted in the Confederate army and served for 18 months with an artillery division of howitzers during the Civil War, according to his 1876 obituary in the Daily Dispatch.

The three board members who voted against the name changes cited the cost, which can range from $25,000 to $50,000 per school.

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“To invest time instead on a school renaming in lieu of student choice, career opportunities, and career and technical education, candidly, I think is malpractice,” said board member Jonathan Young, who represents the 4th District.

“A school board in San Francisco was recalled for failing to prioritize student outcomes and frankly, I think this board would merit the same if we made the same mistake.”

Superintendent Jason Kamras initially urged the board not to take on more than two schools in any given year because of the time, energy and cost involved, but eventually said he could be persuaded to change three.

“Is this really the time to change the name of a school or is it the time to make sure that our children have what they need in place…” said Mariah White, 2nd District representative.

“Our kids need safety. Our kids need reading. … I’m not sure if the name change is the big thing right now.”

Less than half of Richmond Public Schools students were deemed proficient in reading last year, according to state data.

School Board Vice Chair Kenya Gibson also voted against the name change, and Chair Shonda Harris-Muhammed did not vote.

A public comment period of at least one month will begin shortly, per board policy, and the public can suggest new names for the three schools.

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