Gym? No. Commemorative tree? Sure. Rule on naming schools after people has a history in Virginia Beach

The Virginia Beach School Board’s recent experience with trying to decide what to call the new Kemps Landing/Old Donation Center building has highlighted the district’s long-standing prohibition against using a person’s name for the purpose.

The rule has a winding, sometimes complicated history. Take a look:

In the early 1990s, the policy was short and straightforward: “It is the school board’s policy that no school shall be named after an individual.”

In 1998, the School Board considered changing its policy to allow buildings to be named after an individual if the person has been dead for 25 years and “made a significant contribution to the field of public education locally, nationally or internationally,” or “is of historical significance locally, nationally or internationally.”

The proposal failed.

“Following discussion, it was consensus of the Board to continue current practice that no school shall be named after an individual,” the meeting minutes from Jan. 19, 1999, read.

But while the policy forbid using a person’s name for an entire school, parts of schools were sometimes considered fair game, at least on the school level.

In late 2001, then-Superintendent Timothy Jenney sent a memo to the School Board that said school administrators have allowed the naming of sections of school buildings and facilities to honor civic leaders, former principals, teachers and individuals.

“This procedure has been ‘allowed’ at the school site with no guidelines or stipulations,” he wrote.

In early 2002 Jenney was fielding emails about potentially naming part of Tallwood High School after a former student, Maria Diaz, who had died in a car accident while in her second year at the University of Virginia. The band director at Tallwood requested naming the auditorium after her.

Jenney replied in an email in March 2002.

“We have no guiding policy on naming ‘parts’ of buildings after people,” he wrote in part. “We do have a policy which precludes the naming of a whole building after a person. After discussion with individual Board members, we are of a mind to expand the policy to include parts of a building as well.”

The following month the School Board updated the policy to extend the prohibition to parts or sub-units of buildings. It did allow for commemorative trees, plaques and memorials to be placed in gardens or within a school building.

And that’s how it’s stayed since, for the most part.

In September 2014, the Board added a few more words to the policy: “Exceptions may be authorized by the School Board.”

Here is the policy today:

“It is the School Board’s policy that no school shall be named after an individual. For purposes of clarification, this Policy includes, but is not limited to,: parts or sub units of buildings, such as gymnasiums, auditoriums, cafeterias, libraries, classrooms, hallways, laboratories; and any other internal areas of a School Board owned, leased and/or operated instructional facility. Exceptions may be authorized by the School Board.”

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact schools reporter Kelly Kultys at or 757-490-2750.

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