For more than 20 years, Fairfax County's Fort Hunt High School has been a part of Ruth Harvey's life.
Her oldest son, who was killed in Vietnam, was in Fort Hunt's first graduating class in 1965, and her six other children went there. "We never missed a football game," said Harvey, owner of the Hollin Hall Gulf station in eastern Fairfax. "We even used to close the station early on Friday nights."
The 62-year-old Harvey still supports Fort Hunt, even though her children are no longer in school there. She opens the station for freshman car washes and school bake sales. Fort Hunt students pump gas and fix tires after school.
Harvey says that recently in the cozy Fort Hunt community there has been only one issue of consuming interest: a vote by the Fairfax County School Board tonight that could shut Fort Hunt High.
She says she can't remember an issue in the community that has been more emotional than this one. "I'm sure it's the topic of conversation on the telephone around here from early morning to late at night," she says.
"There are definite feelings, and they're running pretty high," said Roger Tilden, rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, who last week asked his congregation to include the Fairfax County School Board in their prayers.
Parents, in some instances, aren't speaking to former friends whose children attend other schools. Students and teachers say they feel alone and under attack by peers outside the school. Everyone talks of perceived threats and deep wounds that will take a long time to heal, regardless of tonight's School Board decision.
"This has been very painful for all of us," said Maureen Sinn, mother of two Fort Hunt students. "That's what I told my husband. I can handle everything but the hate."
"To be called a 'racist,' a 'bigot' and an 'elitist,' to be called 'the country club on the Potomac' -- this hurts," said Paul Levy, chairman of the school's government department.
At issue are a series of proposals before the School Board to shut some schools and shift the enrollment boundaries of others to accommodate the growth in western Fairfax and a stable or declining population in the eastern part of the county. The most controversial of these proposals involves a cluster of high schools along the Rte. 1 corridor, south of Alexandria.
Fairfax School Superintendent William J. Burkholder has recommended shutting Groveton High School, dividing the school's 1,200 students between Fort Hunt and Mount Vernon High schools, and converting the building into an intermediate school.
Alternatively, Burkholder recommended two weeks ago that Fort Hunt, at 8428 Fort Hunt Rd., might be converted into an intermediate school, and the school's 1,269 students absorbed into rival Groveton High over two years, starting next fall. This plan conforms to a recommendation issued last autumn by an areawide citizen task force.
Fort Hunt supporters have raised money, written letters to the School Board, sold bumper stickers and lapel buttons, and taken out advertisements to save the school. But many feel that the volunteer hours spent to save Fort Hunt have backfired -- leaving the school very much alone. Parents, teachers and students speak of the heightened emotion that surrounds wrestling matches and basketball tournaments -- for days before and after the contests.
Many in the Fort Hunt community believe much of the anger is coming from the Groveton community. But Groveton parents, students and teachers disagree. "I'm not aware of any ganging-up," said Robert H. Smith, a Groveton support group leader. "I don't think there's any concentrated effort for one side to beat the other side."
Groveton Principal Paul G. Douglas says his students don't appear to be behaving poorly toward Fort Hunt students; they are mostly nervous about what the School Board might do. But, Douglas said he is aware of a general, area-wide resentment against Fort Hunt High, for reasons he does not understand.
At a recent wrestling tournament, for example, students from several high schools, including Groveton, seemed to band together and root for anybody on the mat -- as long as they weren't from Fort Hunt, he said.
"We're just left out," said Jimmy Carter, 14, a Fort Hunt freshman. "I feel like Mount Vernon's against us. Hayfield is. And, Groveton. I don't know why. Maybe it's because of our reputation -- they think we're rich."
This is perplexing to many in the Fort Hunt community, who believe the country club reputation is undeserved, and who say they have waged a gentlemanly battle to save not only their school, but schools in other communities.
"We've fought the straight-arrow fight," said Latin teacher Jane Hall. "We have not gone after anybody's throat. We have tried very hard to preserve a moral tone."
The situation has been made all the more difficult because the Groveton and Fort Hunt communities share, in some instances, the same churches and stores, beauty parlors and bridge clubs.
"I take one of my daughters to a ballet class," said Maria Landrum, a 1968 Fort Hunt graduate. "There's another mother there -- she went to Groveton -- but we can't talk about this together."
School Board Chairman Mary E. Collier said yesterday that tonight's vote probably will be the most difficult the board has ever made. But she added that the board feels comfortable about the decision because of the time spent in public hearings and listening to various school representatives.
And, she says, it will be good for everyone to finally have a decision. As a Fort Hunt parent recently told her: "It will be nice to be friends with our good friends again."