Fairfax County Public Schools board debates name change for J.E.B. Stuart High

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- The decision makers who could change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax County talked about the move Monday at a school board work session.

School board members seemed split on the idea as their own self-imposed deadline on a decision is about a week away.

Supporters of the name change said the school’s namesake, who was a Civil War general for the South, represents a past that is harmful to community unity. Some said the name was chosen during a time of racial strife as a way to oppose the desegregation of schools.

“This is obviously one of the deepest issues this board or any board in the nation can face. It’s a national conversation,” said Scott Brabrand, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools.

But school board member Elizabeth Schultz believes this effort did not come from public outcry over the name of the school. She cites “outside influences” for deeply dividing the community over the issue.

Schultz believes even though the issue has been talked about for the last 2 years that’s not nearly long enough considering the school’s 60-year history.

Another school board member, Megan McLaughlin, spent most of her time on Monday talking about the frustration with the ad hoc committee established last year to take a closer look at the issue. She’s concerned because that committee turned in a complicated and long report that didn’t come to any solid conclusions.

School board member Thomas Wilson believes because the issue is so divisive he urged school board members not to hang this decision on a split vote. He’d prefer to push the deadline for a decision until the board is unanimous or near unanimous on what to do.

There was also discussion about the potential new name for the school. Some want to drop J.E.B. and simply call it Stuart High School to honor the entire clan which has produced military leaders dating back to the American Revolution.

Another suggestion was made by school board member Ryan McElveen. He said the school could be named after Gilbert Stuart, a painter responsible for portraits of several Presidents including Thomas Jefferson. A suggestion was also made to revert the name back to Munson Hill, which is what the unnamed high school was called in its planning stages.

Concern was also raised that if the school board did change the name it could force them to change other schools based on the same criteria like Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield.

A decision on renaming J.E.B. Stuart High School is expected at the next Fairfax County Schools board meeting on July 27 at Jackson Middle School. That meeting starts at 7 p.m.