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Virginia school district votes to rename Thomas Jefferson, George Mason schools

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The board of a Virginia school district voted on Tuesday in favor of renaming two schools, both named after two United States founding fathers from Virginia, saying, “Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and community members feel safe, supported, and inspired.”

The Falls Church School Board voted unanimously to change the names of two of its constituent schools, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School.

According to a press release from Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS), the vote followed a six-month-long process, which consisted of hours of public hearings, hundreds of submitted written public comments, and a survey of the community to inform the board’s decision.

“The Board took seriously the viewpoints and concerns raised by many students, parents, staff, and community members,” said School Board Chair Greg Anderson.

“We thank everyone who shared their perspectives with us and will be mindful of your comments as we now begin selecting names that reflect the diversity of opinions in our community,” he added. “Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and community members feel safe, supported, and inspired.”

The renaming process will follow the guidelines outlined in the FCCPS Regulation FFA-R School Building Names Committee, the press release explains. The superintendent will accept individuals’ nominations to sit on an “Advisory Study Committee” to the school board for each school name. Following which, the committees will recommend five names to the school board.

At an upcoming meeting, the board will announce the timeline for the work.

This move by the school board comes amid a growing movement in recent years to remove statues and public displays honoring certain U.S. historical figures who held racist views or engaged in racist practices, especially those who had owned slaves or fought in the Civil War for the Confederate States.

In a significant example, Princeton University changed the name of one of its schools that had been named after World War I-era President Woodrow Wilson, who held views considered racist by the standards of his time, once hosting a screening of the pro-Ku Klux Klan film Birth of A Nation (1915) at the White House, the first film to ever have been screened at the president’s residence.

It is worth noting that another component of this movement seeks to remove Confederate symbols from public use. This has led to many public statues of Confederate figures being removed and to Mississippi this year changing its state flag to a new one that does not contain the racist Confederate Battle Flag.

Countless schools, institutions, and places have been named after Jefferson over the course of the country’s history, being one of the most popular U.S. historical figures who people name things after. It was the Declaration of Independence’s author who founded the prestigious University of Virginia, where his legacy is still predominates the campus near his Monticello home and plantation.

Notably, Mason is the namesake of the renown George Mason University in Virginia’s Fairfax County.

When it comes to the debate about the legacy of Jefferson and other slave-owning founding fathers, advocates for changing names and public statues argue that slavery should be enough to warrant those changes while those on the other side defending such naming and statues argue that removing history will mean younger generations won’t learn from it.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Minnesota farmer’s lawsuit prompts removal of race and sex-based grant program

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Five months after Minnesota farmer Lance Nistler filed a federal lawsuit with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the state has removed race- and sex-based preferences from its Down Payment Assistance Grant Program. This significant policy change followed Nistler’s legal challenge, which highlighted the discriminatory nature of the program’s selection process.

Pacific Legal Foundation writes involvement in Nistler’s case drew attention and criticism from Minnesota progressives. Writing in the Minnesota Reformer, Sigrid Jewett accused PLF of using Nistler “as a pawn in a larger culture war game.” She questioned why a California-based legal firm with numerous Supreme Court victories would be interested in representing a small Minnesota farmer pro bono.

PLF opposes all race- and sex-based preferences in the law, and that’s the real reason the firm chose to represent Nistler. The foundation stands against discrimination in various domains, including government board selections, school admissions, government contracts, and grant distributions, such as in Nistler’s case.

Here are the facts: Minnesota’s Down Payment Assistance Grant Program offers up to $15,000 toward the purchase of farmland. Recipients are chosen through a lottery system. However, before the policy change, even if a recipient was among the first picked through the lottery—as Nistler was, being selected ninth—they could be bumped to the back of the line if they were not a racial minority, female, LGBTQIA+, or otherwise designated as an “emerging” farmer by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Despite being chosen ninth in the lottery, which awarded grants to 68 applicants, Nistler did not receive a grant. He was moved from ninth to 102nd on the waitlist because he is a white male.

Nistler grew up on his family farm, milking cows. “They would lose money every year,” he says of the family operation. After he left for school, his family sold the cows and switched to farming soybeans, oats, and wheat. Lance’s father and uncle now run the farm, but they’re getting older. Lance, who has a degree in electronic engineering and worked in HVAC, is interested in buying a 40-acre chunk of the family farm, becoming the fourth-generation farmer in his family.

The land isn’t just going to be given to Lance. This is a working farm, and the Nistlers aren’t a wealthy family that can transfer land from one generation to the next without consideration. “My dad and uncle, they don’t have 401(k)s or anything,” Lance says. “I mean, the land and the equipment, that’s their retirement. This stuff isn’t given away. I’m not just going to get it handed down to me and inherited. It has to be purchased, and it is not cheap.”

Despite being from a farming family, Lance considers himself a new farmer—he has never owned farmland before, and he has an electronics background. Buying these 40 acres would be a huge step for Lance, planting him firmly in the farming world, which is what Minnesota’s grant program aimed to do. The idea that he would have qualified as an emerging farmer if only his skin were a different color struck Lance as wrong.

“The country we live in, the idea is it’s equal opportunity for everyone,” he says. “And if that’s what it is, then well, why shouldn’t I have the same chances?”

When Lance filed his lawsuit in January, the complaint argued that the discriminatory process violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The complaint stated:

“Nistler brings this lawsuit to vindicate his constitutional right to equal protection of the law. He brings it to give all Minnesotans a fair chance at a difference-making grant program. He brings it in the hope that he will be able to own that small farm in the near future. He brings it because he is not giving up on his dream.”

In May, after Lance called attention to the unconstitutional policy, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed legislation removing the race and sex prioritization from the program. Now, Minnesota will treat farmers equally—as the Constitution promises.

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