by Ariana Habibi
After a recent policy change made by the Fairfax County School Board, J.E.B. Stuart HS may be one step closer to a name change.
The idea of a name change was officially brought up last June, when concern arose regarding the ties of FCPS school names to the Confederacy in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting. This concern took form in several online petitions, one of which was started by Stuart alumni and Academy Award-winners Julianne Moore and Bruce Cohen. Students, alumni, and other community members have joined together to rally for the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart HS. Since its beginning six months ago, the petition has garnered over 34,000 supporters.
The effort for the name change is also being led on a more community-oriented level. The group “Students for Change,” founded by five Stuart seniors, has been fighting to rename Stuart HS to Thurgood Marshall HS since the end of last school year. The organization partnered with the Fairfax County division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) last September.
“A name change is the right thing to do,” said history teacher Matthew Levi. “I’m proud of the girls who got the movement started. I appreciate their activism and I try to foster it while teaching.”
The news has since spread to much of the general Stuart community. Now, those with no direct ties to Stuart are aware of and have an opinion on the name change.
“I’ve gotten a lot of people asking me if they should change it [the name] from outside of school,” said junior Nafisa Alamgir. “Where I work they think it’s offensive, so they think a name change is necessary.”
A school board meeting on December 17 may have opened the doors for the name change movement. The board unanimously voted to alter the policy that prohibited the renaming of school buildings unless the building was being repurposed. Instead, a new policy was instated, stating that “the School Board may also consider a change in the name of a school or facility where some other compelling need exists.”
Regardless, the Stuart student body remains divided on whether or not there should be a name change, and one of the more popular reasons for disagreement is the financial impact it may have.
“Renaming Stuart would cost too much and is not logical,” said sophomore Austin Britt. “It’s been this way for so long they should’ve complained about it years ago.”
Though there are currently no official reports on how much it would cost, “people who support the change will go for the lower value, but the people who don’t will say it’ll cost millions,” said senior Lidia Amanuel, a co-founder of “Students for Change,” at an IMPACT club meeting.
Still, some students believe that while a name change would be beneficial, other issues must be given priority.
“I think it is an important matter,” said senior Kali Gabriel, “however there are bigger things to worry about, like student attendance and making sure our faculty is paid well.”
While it is becoming an important issue today, the decision to give the school its present name was made decades ago. On May 6, 1958, the Fairfax County School Board made a policy change stating that “all future high schools, under construction and proposed shall be named for some prominent American, now deceased.” During this time, two high schools were set to open in the next two years: Franconia High School and Munson Hill High School. As a result of the new policy, Superintendent W.T. Woodson proposed new names for the schools: Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, respectively.
A growing belief is that these names were selected to intimidate black students from attending the schools, as they were built during a time of forced desegregation. The namer of the schools, Superintendent W.T. Woodson, was also a known segregationist.
“The name of our school is fundamentally offensive because of the person it honors and the reason it was named for him,” said sophomore Lily Beres.
However, the exhibit files from the 1958 School Board meetings in which the name changes were discussed no longer exist. Furthermore, the meeting notes and newspaper accounts are brief and do not provide details regarding the reasons for changing the names. Without these, why the schools were named what they are cannot be determined.
“Here’s the thing,” said Levi, “Stuart killed Americans for the right to keep black people in chains. It’s unconscionable to have a majority minority school named after a person who viewed non-whites as property.”
photo by Ariana Habibi