Two Jewish high school seniors, saying they had become targets of anti-Semitic slurs and threatened with violence, yesterday abandoned their effort to force Fairfax County's W.T. Woodson High School to change the date of its Saturday graduation.
The students, twins Lynn and Susan Stein, said they remain firm in their decision to avoid the school's commencement exercises, which they have argued in a court case should not be held on the Jewish Sabbath.
Two Virginia courts rejected their arguments that the scheduling is unconstitutional and yesterday the girls and their lawyer announced they would not try to block the graduation.
"If we went ahead at this time and the graduatin date was changed there might be some serious, irrational, violent action against my clients and other Jewish students," lawyer Michael Hausfeld said at a Washington press conference.
Fairfax officials, who had contested the girls' suit on the grounds that students were not required to attend the graduatin services, said yesterday they were unaware of threats against the Steins.
"I don't know of any threats against the girls," said assistant Fairfax superintendent William J. Burkholder. "If threats had been made, it was the obligation of the students to report them."
Hausfeld said he counseled the sisters not to report the threats because school officials "wouldn't do anything anyway."
"We're very disappointed," said Susan."We've come a long way, but it would be foolish to just toss aside the threats."
According to Hausfeld, the decision to drop an appeal to the Supreme Court followed rumors that several Fairfax students had enlisted the aid of the American Nazi Party to oppose the Steins.
While Hausfeld said he did not believe the Nazis would get involved, he said it caused him "grave concern that students are even seeking that kind of advice."
In addition, Hausfeld contended that school administrators were partially reponsible for the harassment by their silence on the Stein suit. The attorney said officials had a duty to inform other students that the sisters were within their rights in appealing the graduation decision.
"The silence of the school board and administrators have pitted Lynn and Susan against the rest of the student body," Hausfeld said.
Burkholder said he was astonished by the lawyer's statements. "I think Mr. Hausfeld should stick to providing legal services and leave education to those trained to educate."
The school administrator commended other school officials for keeping an "explosive situation" under control. "The best way to inflame the situation at Woodson would have been to go over the loudspeaker and say "There will be no harassment," Burkholder said.
Katy Kinney, president of Woodson's 2,300-member student body, agreed yesterday that the atmosphere at the school had been tense since the graduation dispute became public several months ago. Kinney, who will accept Lynn's diploma on Saturday, said that a small group of students at Woodson were becoming increasingly angry over the Steins' lawsuit.
"I know that if the date had been changed, there would have been a lot of angry students," Kinney said. "I know there would have been boos when they went across the stage."
Kinney, who is a friend of the sisters, added that at first she had been reluctant to get involved in the hotly debated controversy because of the atmosphere at Woodson.
Others at the school, said there was no noticeable tension surrounding the Stein suit. "The students have been very discreet," English teacher Belle Harrell said. "They've been very considerate of the girls' feelings."
Despite the decision by the Steins and their attorney to discontinue attempts to change Saturday's commencement date, Hausfeld said yesterday he will still attempt to take the appeal to the Supreme Court. The court usually will not hear such cases if the issue raised -- in this case, the graduation date -- is resolved.
Hausfeld said yesterday the suit will not be moot because the Steins are asking that "all future graduation ceremonies not be scheduled on the Jewish Sabbath."
As yesterday's press conference the sisters were asked what they will be doing Saturday. "In the morning we'll go to synagogue and in the afternoon we'll stay home with our family," they said.
Asked if they have any regrets about the controversy, Susan responded; "No regrets -- it's not over yet."