ugg bootd Civil War general’s name divides community
Stuart High School students presented a film class video project launching a campaign to change their school’s name.
A viral online petition, a policy revision, multiple community and school board meetings, and an ad hoc committee later, a resolution to this particular debate seems no closer in sight even with a vote on whether to change the Falls Church school’s name planned for a Fairfax County School Board July 27 meeting.
The desire to find a compromise emerged as a prevailing theme when the school board discussed the issue during its work session on July 17 at the Gatehouse Administration Center in Falls Church. The work session was scheduled after a previous discussion during the board’s June 12 work session lasted more than five hours and ended with members deciding they needed more time, according to a newsletter alert emailed by school board Mason District representative Sandy Evans on July 14.
“I believe that there’s a sense among a number of board members that we need to try to find a compromise,” Evans said after the July 17 discussion. “It has been divisive, and I think we all very much regret the divisiveness of it, so we want to get to the point where we can make a decision, and make it a thoughtful decision, then move on.”
Whether the board has reached a stage where it can make a “thoughtful decision” is perhaps the central point of contention, as some members suggest more methodical and considerate approach to gathering public input is needed, while others argue that delaying a vote would only further tear apart the Stuart community.
A microcosm of an ongoing national debate over how to address the lingering legacy of slavery and the Confederacy, the call to no longer name the Falls Church high school after Confederate general James Ewell Brown Stuart started in June 2015 with a handful of students, including then 11th graders Anna Rowan and Lidia Amanuel.
However, their efforts gained significant traction when the Fairfax County branch of the NAACP and notable Stuart alumni, actress Julianne Moore and film producer Bruce Cohen, lent their support.
The campaign drew the attention of the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) school board with Evans, who was the board’s vice chair at the time, in particular taking up the cause.
FCPS Policy 8170.5, which dictates the process for naming school facilities and was originally adopted on Feb. 26, 1987, says that the school board may rename a facility when it is “recast and used for a new purpose or function.”
The school board voted in its Dec. Stuart High School on May 23 of that year.
The survey found that 35 percent of the 3,414 respondents supported a name change, 56 percent opposed it, and 8 percent had no opinion.
A vote on whether to change the name was initially scheduled for June 11, 2016, but it was scrapped following the complaints at the community meeting that the school board was moving too quickly. Instead, the board voted at its July 28, 2016 meeting to create an ad hoc working group to further examine the issue.
The final motion that passed during that meeting dictated that the membership of the ad hoc committee be chosen by the superintendent “in consultation with the full board.”
However, complications ensued when then Superintendent Karen Garza announced her resignation on Sept. 19, 2016. FCPS deputy superintendent Steve Lockard then became interim superintendent until Superintendent Scott Brabrand officially took over the position on July 10.
“I think that it delayed the ad hoc committee’s work,” Evans said of Garza’s resignation. “It also meant that we didn’t have as much guidance for the ad hoc committee as I would’ve liked for us to have, just to have them understand what their mission was.”
With the school board preoccupied with finding Garza’s permanent replacement, the ad hoc committee received limited help or oversight in carrying out its duties, which consisted of looking into the pros and cons of a name change, the extent of community support for a change, and the financial implications of a potential change.
In a message issued in October 2016 after her resignation, Garza said that FCPS had recommended hiring an outside facilitator for the committee, but at that point, a facilitator had not yet been hired.
When a facilitator did arrive, they failed to provide adequate structure and seemed unfamiliar with the school board resolution that formed the ad hoc committee, according to committee member and Fairfax County NAACP communications chair George Alber.
“From a facilitation point of view, it’s not atypical to have a set of rules of conduct. They did share those, but they made no attempt to enforce them,” Alber, who supports a Stuart name change, said. “I think the whole thing could’ve been better structured and better facilitated, and then, I think we should’ve had more research. We should’ve had places we could turn to get more information.”
For all their disagreements, that the process for determining the necessity of a name change could have been better handled is perhaps the one belief shared by both supporters and opponents of a name change.
However, opponents say issues with the process started even earlier, with the selection of the ad hoc committee members, who they argue should have been restricted to just community members in the Stuart school pyramid.
“They’re the only stakeholders, because when the decision is made and it’s all over, all these other people will disappear, and the community will be left with the blood on the floor,” ad hoc committee member and name change opponent Ron Martinson said. “All these outsiders can go about their merry way.”
As a 21 year resident of the county, Alber objects to the characterization of name change proponents as outsiders, arguing that the fact that the entire school board is going to vote on the proposal makes it a countywide issue.
“The NAACP is not an outsider to the Fairfax County community,” Alber said. “Anyone who’s a student of history of the civil rights movement [knows that] workers of the NAACP who work in communities agitating for inclusion, diversity, equality and racial justice have historically been called outsiders by those who oppose those principles.”
FCPS Regulation 8170.7 dictates that the School Board may “consider a change in the name of a school or facility for reasons where there exists some compelling need.”
The community processes for a possible name change must include meetings, surveys, or other tools to determine the extent of community support for a change, and proposed names for consideration can be solicited “if there is sufficient support to change the school facility name.”
Whether the “community” refers to just the school community or the county as a whole, and exactly what constitutes “sufficient support” are not specified by the regulation.
Whether due to these variables or just the general contentiousness of the issue, the Fairfax County School Board members appeared to make little concrete progress toward a consensus during its Monday work session.