School renaming policy changed ahead of ‘Thornton Center’ vote

Published 6:34 pm Monday, October 17, 2022

A policy prohibiting school facilities from being named for living people appears to have been changed without a vote ahead of the Isle of Wight County School Board’s June 9 announcement of plans to rename Smithfield High School’s career and technical education center for retired Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton.

School Board Policy FFA mandates “no school will be named for a living individual,” specifying that schools can only be named for people “who have been deceased for at least 10 years.”

According to the school division’s website, the policy’s current wording has been in place since it was last reviewed and readopted by the School Board on June 11, 2015. But according to School Board records, the board in 2015 voted to add the words “or school facility” to the prohibition.

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The current Policy FFA document available on the school division’s website, according to the site’s HTML code, appears to be dated June 9, 2022 – the exact date the current School Board announced its plans to rename Smithfield High’s CTE center for Thornton.

“I do not know why the policy wording changed or who changed it,” said Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, noting she’s since brought the matter to the attention of Superintendent Dr. Theo Cramer and the School Board.

Briggs had previously told The Smithfield Times that the renaming was not a policy violation, as Policy FFA applied only to renaming the school itself.

The 2015 policy’s original wording and the version omitting the “or school facility” language both specify that the board is to solicit input from the public regarding the names of schools and school facilities, but reserves the right to make a final decision regarding the name of any school or facility.

Suggestions “must be in writing, must state the name of the person or group making the suggestion and must state the reasons supporting the suggestion,” the June 11, 2015, version states. The altered version of Policy FFA further states that the School Board “may create a committee to make recommendations” on the naming of any school or school facility. The procedure for renaming a school facility “will be the same as the procedure outlined above,” states the altered version.

Thornton, who retired July 1, oversaw a multimillion-dollar countywide renovation of the school system’s CTE facilities in 2017. The detached SHS facility became home to Isle of Wight County Schools’ new welding, nursing, engineering, manufacturing and culinary arts programs – including a student-run restaurant named “Turner & 10” for the school’s location at Route 10 and Turner Drive.

The current School Board named the CTE building for Thornton on Sept. 8 with a 3-1 vote. Board member John Collick cast the dissenting vote.

Policy FFA was one of 34 slated for a first-read review during the School Board’s Oct. 13 meeting, with no changes to the altered online version proposed other than changing the June 11, 2015, “last revised” date. The board is slated to read over the 34 policies a second time and vote to readopt them in November.