NNPS seeks input on renaming of schools

Posted: March 10, 2021

Newport News Public Schools' Diversity and Inclusion Task Force is accepting nominations to rename Horace Epes Elementary School, Lee Hall Elementary School, R. O. Nelson Elementary School and J. M. Dozier Middle School.

The nomination process opened on Wednesday, March 10, and will close on Wednesday, March 24. Click here to submit nominations; paper forms are available by request by calling (757) 591-4502.

Newport News School Board Naming Criteria (School Board Policy FF)
It is the responsibility of the School Board to determine the name of schools and school facilities. The Board will solicit and accept input from the public but it reserves the right to make all final decisions.

In all cases, the School Board is committed to the values of diversity and inclusion when naming or renaming schools.

Schools and school facilities may be named for the following:

  • The geographic location of the school
  • Physical or environmental features of the community
  • Historical locations and considerations
  • Programs included in the building
  • In honor of a person, living or deceased, who has made a significant contribution to education or has rendered outstanding service to mankind in their community, state or country.

During the summer of 2020, the School Board asked the Superintendent to review school names and determine which namesakes potentially do not reflect the current NNPS values of inclusion and diversity. A steering committee conducted the initial research of school names and identified and tiered school names for consideration.

In September 2020, the School Board voted to rename the schools in tier one (Epes, Lee Hall, Nelson and Dozier), and the Superintendent created a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, comprised of members of the community and NNPS staff, to lead this important work.

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force will review the nominations, and select three potential names for each school. The slate of names will be presented to the Superintendent for his consideration and recommendation to the School Board.

Namesakes of Schools Slated for Renaming

Horace H. Epes

Horace Hardaway Epes (1849-1912) was a pioneer educator in Newport News at the turn of the century. He was principal of the city's 28th Street School Institute and later became the first principal of Newport News High School in 1896 when it was still located in the First National Bank building at Washington Avenue & 28th Street. Epes also directed the city's first census in 1896.

Epes had distinguished career in education; served as teacher, college professor and school principal.

Rationale for Renaming:
While the school was named in his honor because of his contributions to education, Epes served for a brief time in the confederate army. He had 12 days of wartime service while at Virginia Military Institute.

R.O. Nelson

Robert Oliver Nelson's (1899-1970) career in education spanned 50 years. He was superintendent of schools in Newport News from 1946 to 1965. Under his leadership, the Newport News and Warwick school districts merged smoothly. The school was named in his honor upon his retirement in 1965.

Rationale for Renaming:
R.O. Nelson was superintendent during Massive Resistance, when "separate but equal" schools was state law. During his tenure, an African-American family submitted three applications for admission to a white elementary school. Nelson is quoted as saying that the school board was under no action of the federal court to mandate school integration.

Lee Hall

Lee Hall was named for the nearby Lee Hall Mansion that was built in 1859 as the home of Richard Decatur Lee (1821-1896), a prominent local farmer who was a slave owner. Lee Hall Elementary School opened in 1956.

Rationale for Renaming:
Richard D. Lee was a prominent farmer who owned slaves. Lee Hall was used as headquarters for confederate generals during the Peninsula Campaign.

J.M. Dozier, Jr.

In 1972, the Newport News School Board voted to name a new school after 27-year board member John Marshall Dozier, Jr. (1903-1979), who grew up in Newport News and attended local schools. He was a long-time chairman of both the Warwick County and Newport News School Boards and was the first president of the School Board after the two localities consolidated in 1958. The J.M. Dozier, Jr. Intermediate School was completed in October 1974.

Rationale for Renaming:
Dozier was a long-time school board chairman during Massive Resistance, when "separate but equal" schools was state law.