J.E.B. Stuart renaming dominates school board candidate forum

Special election to be held Aug. 29

Siddarth Shankar, Editor-in-Chief

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School board candidates Chris Grisafe, Karen Keys-Gamarra and Michael Owens participate in the Aug. 23 school board candidate forum at McLean. (Photo by Siddarth Shankar)

Tensions over the J.E.B. Stuart High School renaming spilled over into the Aug. 23 school board special election candidate forum at McLean High School. Businessman Chris Grisafe, attorney Karen Keys-Gamarra and former FCPS teacher Michael Owens participated in the forum, while Sandra Allen did not.

 

Last week’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. that resulted in the deaths of three people had profoundly affected the tone of the debate.

 

“When I think about some of the things I have seen in the last few weeks, with the horror of looking at Charlottesville…we can not shy away from the hard things,” Keys-Gamarra said. Keys-Gamarra has been endorsed by the Democratic Party for the seat.

 

Owens, an independent candidate, concurred with Keys-Gamarra.

J.E.B. Stuart was not an appropriate name in 1958, and they knew it, and it’s not an appropriate name today…that is not who we are as a community today. That is not who we want to be.”

— Michael Owens

Grisafe, however, thought the name change was unnecessary and divisive.

 

“One of the unfair and overlooked elements of this [name change] is when people think, alumni and students at J.E.B. Stuart, when they think about the name, they’re not necessarily thinking about the Confederate soldier. They’re thinking about their friends, their experiences, the community around them and that should not be underappreciated,” Grisafe, the Republican-endorsed candidate, said. “When you pull the name, and especially if you frame it as, ‘hey, you’re a bigot if you don’t,’ that tears the community apart unnecessarily.”

 

Grisafe accused Keys-Gamarra of having already made up her mind on possible future name changes of Robert E. Lee and W.T. Woodson High Schools, which Keys-Gamarra denied.

I understand this is the era of fake news, but please don’t answer for me.”

— Karen Keys-Gamarra

Despite broken air conditioning and broken microphones, the Lecture Hall was packed for the candidate forum. (Photo by Siddarth Shankar)

 

Much of the forum also focused on issues regarding the FCPS budget and increased class sizes. Grisafe called for zero-based budgeting (ZBB), a tactic which requires all expenses to be approved by a new decision-making process every year, while Keys-Gamarra claimed ZBB sounded good but was a logistical nightmare to organize.

 

All candidates supported measures to reduce class sizes and were generally civil throughout the debate, which was applauded by both voters and organizers.

This event is really what good democracy looks like.”

— moderator Kathleen Pablo, League of Women Voters

The League set up tables outside of the forum encouraging people to vote in the special election on Aug. 29. The election was triggered by the resignation of at-large member Jeannette Hough in May. Polls will be open from 6 am to 7 pm across Fairfax County for all registered voters.

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