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George Fox Middle in Pasadena to be renamed Northeast Middle School after concerns with namesake’s racist policies

George Fox Middle School will be renamed Northeast Middle School, after the Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted seven to one to accept the recommendation put forward by Superintendent George Arlotto on behalf of families and teachers in the Northeast cluster.

During public comment at the start of the meeting several people, including Anne Arundel NAACP Chapter President Jacqueline Boone Allsup and Convener of the Caucus of African-American Leaders Carl Snowden, spoke to say they thought the school should instead be named for Sarah V. Jones. Others urged the board to stick with the Northeast name picked by nearly 1,000 voters.

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The City of Annapolis says on its Women in Black History webpage that Jones was the long-time supervisor of segregated schools in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, and was “front and center” in a lawsuit for equal pay. Walter Mills, an Annapolis principal, was the plaintiff in that lawsuit, in which Thurgood Marshall successfully argued in court that the practice of paying Black educators less was a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Arguing against Jones, Mills and Marshall and saying the worst white teacher was better than the best Black teacher was then-superintendent of the county school system George Fox. Last summer the board formed a commission to examine Fox’s legacy and the school’s name. That commission recommended changing the name because Fox’s racist actions would not make today’s students proud.

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From there the question of a new name went to the community, as spelled out in Board of Education policy. There were 104 name ideas submitted, including Sarah V. Jones. Every family in the cluster of Northeast schools was allowed to vote, as were teachers at George Fox Middle. In the first round of voting 980 ballots were cast, and because no name got 50% or more, the list was winnowed down to the top vote-getters and a second round of voting was held.

Jones got two votes in that first round of voting and did not advance to the second. Jones’ name was considered in a similar process for Crofton High School in 2019.

At the start of the naming discussion, Arlotto told the board that he recommended that they adopt the name Northeast Middle, as suggested by the community’s vote. District 3 Representative Corine Frank made a motion to accept Arlotto’s recommendation.

As the board discussed Frank’s motion, Student Member of the Board Drake Smith made a motion to rename the middle school for Jones. After the board met privately with its attorney, it was decided that Smith’s motion was not proper procedure and it was withdrawn.

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He said he thinks if a little description accompanied the names on the ballot, Jones would have fared better. The renaming policy should be changed, he said.

“This wasn’t an informed decision by the community,” he said about the decision to name the school Northeast Middle School.

He instead urged fellow members to vote against the Northeast name, at which point it would have been proper to consider his motion to rename the school for Jones.

Frank, who represents Northeast, was insulted by Smith’s comment about the community being uninformed, saying despite busy schedules and the pandemic, families still took the time to participate in the election for the new school name.

“They rallied, they showed up, they turned up with their voice and they voted. And this is their vote,” she said. “I was elected to serve my community. I was not elected to dictate to them what is right and what is wrong unless I think a mistake has been made.”

That Jones is deserving of recognition but is apparently not getting through the naming process is why District 1 Representative Candace Antwine argued during the meeting that the board can and should consider Jones. They have a choice as a board, she said, adding that she thinks Smith’s motion was proper.

Antwine said she wasn’t against the name Northeast, but was for considering Jones’ name. Antwine ultimately voted in favor of the Northeast Middle name. The name change will take effect July 1.

Board members agreed that Jones should be honored, but in another way. District 2 Representative Robert Silkworth said despite working in the system for 49 years, he did not know about Jones’ contributions until the renaming discussion and subsequent research began last summer.

“I do think we need to find a way to honor the memory of Sarah Jones,” he said.

A motion was approved to convene a committee to recommend appropriate ways to honor Jones and acknowledge segregation.

Antwine made a motion that directed the superintendent to review and report back to the board the feasibility of including in school curriculum units on the public school history in Anne Arundel County, including segregation, desegregation, court cases and key figures including both Jones and Fox. It was approved by the board. Arlotto said a committee is already working on such a task.

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