Support for naming Beach school after late superintendent fades as board considers history, future

Virginia Beach School Board members appeared mostly in favor — some of them strongly so — when they received a proposal last month to name a new school building after a longtime superintendent who had died in June.

Renaming Kemps Landing/Old Donation after the late Edward Brickell was a good fit, the proponents said, because the school’s new building, scheduled to open in 2017, will house the district’s gifted and talented program, which Brickell established during his nearly two-decade tenure as superintendent.

Support for the idea faltered, however, as board members thought more about the proposal. Among their considerations was the fact that Brickell ran on a segregationist platform for the Virginia House of Delegates in 1959.

“People are complicated,” board member Joel McDonald said days after he and others voted on Dec. 1 to postpone a vote on the name.

McDonald and other board members were reluctant to discuss on the record how Brickell’s political history affected their stance. Several members said other factors, including the larger issue of breaking policy to name a school after a person, influenced their position.

School Board Chairman Dan Edwards, who in November spoke in favor of the idea of naming the new school building after Brickell, said in an interview after the Dec. 1 meeting that the district policy serves to prevent the board from making “knee-jerk” reactions.

Several board members also said at the Dec. 1 meeting they were concerned because the naming process for the Kemps Landing/Old Donation building seemed rushed.

Board member Leonard Tengco, who in November objected to waiving the policy for the Brickell proposal, said delaying the vote was not a referendum on the late superintendent, who he said had a large impact on Virginia Beach.

Brickell led the school district from 1968-1987. In 1969 he led the district through desegregation. A decade earlier, he had unsuccessfully run for the House of Delegates as a part of a three-man ticket on a segregationist platform, according to the April 12, 1959, issue of The Virginian Pilot.

“We want in the beginning to make our position clear on integration,” the candidates said in an open declaration that ran in the paper. “We stand for preservation of our public schools on a segregated basis and are opposed to integration in any form — token or otherwise.”

Decades later, Brickell addressed that history, again in a Virginian-Pilot article.

“I’m not trying to justify it,” he said in a Sept. 8, 2009, article. “That’s the way it was.”

At the Dec. 1 meeting, School Board member Carolyn Weems suggested they name the new school building after the surrounding community, and name only the gifted and learning program within the school after Brickell. The idea came from Weems and Tengco.

The proposal to name the school after Brickell included four variations. They came from a staff recommendation, according to Superintendent Aaron Spence. He said at the Dec. 1 meeting that Principal Kelly Hedrick had met with her school community, staff and students to come up with the names.

Spence said Tony Arnold, the district’s director of facilities planning and construction, would work with Hedrick to gather more feedback and come up with new suggestions for the Board.

As far as work on the new building is concerned, there is no immediate rush to select a name, but if one is not chosen by the first few months of 2016, it could affect construction, Arnold said. The building is scheduled to be ready for school in fall 2017.

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