It will be a tough decision for the Prince William County School Board: name a new school after a local Sept. 11 hero or give it a name that represents the community.
The school-naming committee recommended the latter to the School Board during a meeting Wednesday night for a new elementary school scheduled to open in September in the Ashland subdivision near Va. 234.
The committee is recommending naming the building Ashland Elementary School after about a month of deliberating on whether to name the school after Jeff Simpson, a former Montclair resident who was killed in the World Trade Center while on a business trip in New York on Sept. 11.
Simpson, who volunteered as an emergency medical technician for the Prince William Fire and Rescue station in Montclair, was walking in lower Manhattan when the terrorist hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center towers. It is said that he ran to the scene to use his emergency medical skills to help victims. He was never heard from again.
Upon hearing the recommendation against naming the school after Simpson, some School Board members echoed sentiments that Simpson was indeed a hero. However, others in the community perished on that day, some said.
“If you pick one then you’ve slated other people,” said School Board member John David Allen, R-Coles District, noting that a former Prince William school student was killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
School Board Member Joan R. Ferlazzo, R-Dumfries District, said that the Prince William Fire and Rescue Department should name its new fire station after Simpson. Plans are now under way for the new station to be built along Prince William Parkway in Woodbridge.
However, some School Board members intend to keep an open mind until the April 23 vote.
Board Member Steven Keen, R-Woodbridge District, said that although many died in the attacks, Simpson exemplified the characteristic of community spirit when he ran to the rescue. “We want to encourage children to adopt those virtues,” he said.
The recommendation to name the school after the Ashland subdivision rose out of “overwhelming support” from that community, said Area Associate Superintendent Alison Nourse-Miller. “The committee thought it wouldn’t be fair to honor just one person … we have other heroes in Prince William County,” she said.
James Ardaiolo worked alongside Simpson as a volunteer at the Montclair fire and rescue station and led the campaign to name the school after the hero. Ardaiolo collected more than 3,500 signatures on a petition in favor of naming the school Jeff Simpson Elementary School.
“I agreed with everything [the School Board] said. All those folks are heroes for what they did. As a retired Marine officer, in a war setting they would have all received a Purple Heart … Jeff would have received the Congressional Medal of Honor,” he said.
“He put himself in harm’s way when he didn’t have to. I think the board is afraid of hurting other folks,” he said.
Ardaiolo addressed the School Board on Wednesday night and said he will continue to lobby for Simpson until the April 23 vote.
Staff writer Louise Cannon can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 123.