Area resident Jim Roberts has been on a crusade recently, working to honor a Surry County teacher who gave her life trying to protect one of her students.
Sixty years ago, the Flat Rock School caught fire and burned. While most of the students and faculty escaped either unharmed or with minor injuries, a half dozen students received severe burn wounds in the quickly spreading blaze.
Another, Larry Adams, died in the fire and his teacher, Cora Beasley, was severely wounded in her attempts to save the student. She died from her burns several days later.
According to various accounts of that tragic day, teachers on the upper floor of the school — including Beasley — were dropping students from the windows, with high schoolers on the ground, attempting to catch them.
Larry, a third-grader, had a history of seizures, and was reportedly suffering from one after the fire broke out, clinging to his desk, unable to move. After remaining in the blazing building long enough to lower all of her students through the windows to the ground below, Beasley went back into the smoky, burning classroom, unwilling to abandon Larry.
She was not able to save him, and the two lost their lives from injuries suffered that day.
Roberts, a student at Mount Airy Middle School at the time, has recounted how he and his classmates watched smoke from the fire rising in the distance that day. Among his classmates were Beasley’s daughter, who had no idea at that moment of her mother’s heroic actions.
Roberts has garnered significant support for his efforts to honor Beasley, with the governments of Mount Airy, Dobson, and Pilot Mountain voting to back his efforts.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners, while expressing some level of support for Roberts’ idea, would not vote to officially offer their support. As the government body that supplies the bulk of local money that goes to the Surry County school system, the board members felt such a vote could be read as putting pressure on the school board to acquiesce to Robert’s request.
For their part, school board members have taken the proposal under advisement, with no promise of any action.
Both actions, we believe, are entirely appropriate.
The commissioners were right to refrain from taking an official position — ultimately it is the school board’s decision, and the funding authority for the system shouldn’t be taking any action that could be seen as undue pressure for such a request.
As for the school board, there are two primary considerations at play.
First, renaming a school after a person — no matter how deserving of an honor — can set a precedent. Without a clearly defined policy regarding what constitutes an acceptable reason to name a school after a person, doing so could open the floodgates to such requests.
Second, generations of local residents see Flat Rock Elementary School as their school. It’s a focal point of their community, as schools often are, with an emotional attachment that goes far beyond simply being a government building. Three, even four, generations of Flat Rock residents have personal ties to the school. To them, the name is important, and changing that name —even for someone as deserving as Beasley — would change the character of the school and the community.
At the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the history of Surry County Schools sacrificing more than Beasley did on that wintry day. Beasley had devoted her career to teaching and nurturing the boys and girls of the county, and ultimately gave her life for them.
That’s a sacrifice that should surely be memorialized. A portrait of Beasley, along with young Larry Adams, hangs in the hallway at the school, and there are two benches outside the school with their names on them.
More should be done.
We understand and can even accept the reluctance of the school board to name the school after her, but as Roberts has said on numerous occasions during his quest, she deserves more than a portrait hanging on the wall.
Naming a school after her might not be the best decision, but surely an auditorium, a playground, something at the school that is used widely and often by students, should carry her name as a memorial to her sacrifice.
We hope the county board of education will move soon on this request, and find a way to honor and memorialize Cora Beasley’s sacrifice. It is the right thing to do.