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J.E.B. Stuart High School renamed Justice High School

After four hours of debate, Fairfax County School Board votes 7-4 to make change

J.E.B.+Stuart+High+School+on+the+day+of+community+voting+for+the+renaming%2C+Sept.+16.+%28Photo+by+Maria+McHugo%29
J.E.B. Stuart High School on the day of community voting for the renaming, Sept. 16. (Photo by Maria McHugo)

J.E.B. Stuart High School on the day of community voting for the renaming, Sept. 16. (Photo by Maria McHugo)

J.E.B. Stuart High School on the day of community voting for the renaming, Sept. 16. (Photo by Maria McHugo)

Siddarth Shankar, Editor-in-Chief

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The Fairfax County School Board voted 7-4 on Oct. 26 to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School to Justice High School. The name change will take effect in the 2019-20 school year.

The final vote to rename J.E.B. Stuart, which is named after a Confederate general, took place after two years of community discussions and battles over the name that spilled into the most recent school board special election on Aug. 28.

“The question [of renaming J.E.B. Stuart] originally came from students at Stuart,” school board chair Jane Strauss said. “We had a number of very articulate students who spoke to the school board…They felt that it was not right to have a school named after a Confederate general who was not known for any important contributions.”

Student advocacy has been a major part of the movement to rename the school, as Stuart sophomore Kayla Longmyer attests.

“I’ve seen it as a great opportunity to honor people who aren’t really known. I’ve really gotten into it,” Longmyer said. “I’ve worked for two years and I’m not sure what to do after all this.”

J.E.B. Stuart is one of two high schools in Fairfax County named after Confederate leaders, the other being Robert E. Lee High School. Stuart was named and opened in 1959 during the period of massive resistance to desegregation in Virginia.

“At J.E.B. Stuart…there was a time when internally, the community got rid of the Confederate flag which was in the gym floor,” Strauss said. “It bothered the students and the school board, to honor [the Confederacy].”

The Stuart mascot, the Raider, still carries the blue flag while riding on horseback, a vestige of a blue Confederate battle flag.

Opponents of the name change raised concern about the costs associated with it. Renaming the school to just Stuart High School would cost $512,572. The ‘Justice’ name will cost $800,620.

“I’m not 100 percent with the spending of public money to do all this,” senior Ryan Murn said.

To respond to these concerns, school board members have vowed to raise money for the cost of the renaming from the private sector. FCPS has routinely faced budget shortfalls over the past three years.

The J.E.B. Stuart community voted on Sept. 16 on their top choices for renaming the school. The superintendent then recommended the top five names to the school board for consideration: Stuart High School, Justice Thurgood Marshall High School, Barbara Rose Johns High School, Peace Valley High School and Louis G. Mendez, Jr. High School.

The board decided to neglect the choice of ‘Stuart,’ even though it was the top selection within the community vote.

“What was the point of a community vote if we weren’t going to listen to the vote?” school board member Elizabeth Schultz said during an Oct. 16 work session. “I feel like maybe what we’re going through is almost like a game of charades.”

Proponents of the name change, however, believed renaming the school to ‘Stuart High School’ was maintaining the status quo.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Stuart senior Lily Beres said. “It’s no change at all. What are you going to do for the next ten years when kids walk in and be like, ‘Oh, it’s Stuart, but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not the same as it was before.’”

Justice Thurgood Marshall, Barbara Rose Johns and Louis G. Mendez, Jr. were names recommended by proponents of the name change, as each were minorities.

Marshall was the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice, Johns was a plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed segregation in public schools and Mendez, Jr. was an army officer in World War II from Fairfax County. The fourth-choice option, Peace Valley, refers to the school’s address on Peace Valley Lane.

While the Board ultimately decided to honor the name of Justice Thurgood Marshall, “Louis G. Mendez High School” was a close second after nearly four hours of debate and the culmination of a two year renaming process. Members felt the Mendez name would be meaningful since the school is majority Hispanic.

In retrospect, the name change battle has been divisive for the community, but school administrators have been distancing themselves from the controversy nonetheless.

“We don’t [have a role in this]. We can’t get into political beliefs,” said assistant principal Jeff Barham, who previously worked at Stuart. “The administration’s role is just to make sure that every student is safe and that they get a great education, and that’s what the administration of Stuart always strives to do.”

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J.E.B. Stuart High School renamed Justice High School