|Supports of a name change pack the audience at the June 8 school board meeting.|
Several opponents of a name change also spoke, citing history, costs, an improperly conducted process, and other reasons as they urged the board to keep the Stuart name.
The school board is scheduled to vote on whether or not to change the school’s name next month.
Stuart students and alumni initiated a call for a name change two years ago. The school board passed a resolution last July calling for the creation of an ad hoc committee to study the matter. The committee failed to reach a consensus.
Daniel Villegas, president of the Stuart student body and a member of the ad hoc community, urged the school board to approve a name change because of the racist principles behind the current name, which honors a Confederate general who gave up his citizenship. Schools should be named for “Americans we try to emulate.”
“We can’t let this continue, knowing the history behind it,” Villegas said. “What we learned in class about the civil rights process was nothing got done until someone did it.”
Retaining the name of JEB Stuart High School is akin to “supporting the core values of the Confederacy,” said attorney Sean Perryman.
The Confederacy was founded on the concept that “the Negro is not equal to the white man,” and “Confederates fought and died for the ideal of white supremacy,” he said. That does not fit in with “the mission endorsed by the school board to embrace diversity and inclusion.”
“JEB Stuart is not a hero,” said Kofi Annan, the president of the Fairfax County NAACP. “He fought and died for the notions of slavery and white supremacy.”
“This is not a decision about dollars and cents,” Annan said, referring to the claim by opponents that a name change is too costly. “It’s a moral issue.” He urged the school board to lead on this issue, “not hide behind dishonest numbers.”
While opponents of a name change talk about the need to remember the historical events that happened in the community, he said, “This is about whitewashing our history, not preserving our history.” he said.
Retaining the name would a signal that the school board supports the growing climate of racism in the country reflected by a resurgence of the Klan and hate crimes, he said. “Symbolic changes produce real and lasting impacts on individuals and our community.”
The bottom line, said Julie Strandlie: “JEB Stuart renounced his U.S. citizenship and his U.S. military commission and took up arms against the United States of America. He was a traitor.”
Strandlie, a member of the county Planning Commission and president of the Holmes Middle School PTA, urged the school board to listen to the Stuart students who are uncomfortable attending a school named for someone who fought to keep their people enslaved.
Among those on the other side of the issue, Vince Nettuno, a member of the ad hoc committee and a founding member of the Stuart Alumni Association, said the supporters “failed to define a compelling need.”
If the school name is changed, Nettuno warned, the Stuart Boosters Club will disband. He urged the school board delay a vote until the vacancy on the board is filled.
Andre Billeaudeaux, a Stuart parent, said the process to consider a name change has been destructive and there’s been a lack of transparency. He also cited a study claiming that another school that went through a name change found test scores declined and students experienced more disruptive behavior.
Another opponent called the Stuart name change issue “a multimillion dollar domino,” that will lead to requests to change the names of other schools named for historic figures.