2nd community meeting on possible renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School

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FALLS CHURCH, VA -- A second community meeting was held Tuesday night on the possible renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church.

The Fairfax County School Board commissioned an Ad Hoc committee to look at the issue in July 2016. Different subcommittees were created to look at different aspects of a name change.

This was the second public input meeting, the first was held Thursday, May 18, 2017.

But whereas the first meeting was hosted by members of the public input subcommittee who support changing the name, the second meeting was hosted by members who are opposed to the name change and they presented their reasons for their opposition.

At times, the meeting devolved into shouting matches as some in the audience of several dozen, who mostly appeared to be in favor of a name change, argued with the committee member's presentations.

Among the concerns raised by those opposed to the name change is what it would cost to rebrand the school. Estimates for the cost of a name change range from $650,000 to $1,000,000 depending on the report and committee member Vince Nettuno said there are more deserving programs needing the school system's finite resources.

"As a county community resident, I can’t stand up here and say those causes are secondary to someone who’s feelings are hurt," added Nettuno.

The committee members also raised concerns about the psychological impact of a name change on students and wanted more input from them, adding they feel too much of the push behind a change has come from people outside the J.E.B. Stuart community. To that, several students approached the microphones set up in the school auditorium and told the committee that they do want a name change.

"And there's only one thing I need to know about this person, that I don't want to be in a school with his name. One thing. I don't want to know where he went to school. I don't care what he read, what he did in school. There is only one thing I care about and that’s what he fought for. That’s what he fought for. That’s all I need to know," said one student.

In response, one committee member said she had spoken to students' families who said their children would not speak out in support of keeping the name for fear of retribution.

Another main focal point of the debate is J.E.B. Stuart’s legacy and the reasons the school was named after him in the first place.

Supporters of the name change say it was done as a form of protest to school integration in the 1950’s and Stuart’s legacy is that of a traitor to the United States.

Opponents of the name change said it was not about that, but because Stuart operated near the school during the Civil War.

"Munson Hill, Taylor's Tavern, Upton's Hill, Fort Buffalo. All those places are within a mile or so of here," said Nettuno.

Following the presentations, the audience was given an opportunity to speak. Most who did, spoke in favor of a name change, but one woman said whatever the outcome, the divisiveness the debate had caused in the community needed to end.

"My solution is only a request because I don’t know if there is a win in here anywhere. It is a request that if we change anything, it cannot be done piecemeal. We cannot as a community continue to cut each other. It cannot go on," said the woman.

Each subcommittee must submit their findings to the school board by midnight on May 24. The school board will hold their own public input sessions on the debate before holding a final vote on the issue at the end of June.