At least four members of the Fairfax County School Board say they support renaming a Falls Church school Justice High, erasing a moniker that evoked the Confederacy.
A vote scheduled for Thursday to rename J.E.B. Stuart High will put an end to a long, drawn-out, divisive debate over the Northern Virginia school’s name. Board member Sandy Evans, who represents the district where the school sits, said she plans on putting forth the motion that would name the school Justice High.
“The school deserves a name that reflects inclusion, tolerance, diversity,” Evans said.
Three others on the 12-member School Board — Dalia Palchik, Karen Keys-Gamarra and Jane Strauss — say they intend to support Evans’s call. At least one member, Elizabeth Schultz, plans on offering alternative suggestions.
Evans said the name was distilled from some of the top five choices in a nonbinding community vote. One of those top choices: Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court justice.
Calling the school Justice, Evans said, would also recognize others who have championed equal rights — including Barbara Rose Johns, who fought for school integration as a teenager, and Col. Louis G. Mendez Jr., an Army colonel and decorated World War II veteran who was a longtime Fairfax resident. Johns and Mendez were also among the most popular renaming suggestions.
For two years, the Stuart community has been embroiled in debate over the renaming.
Proponents have argued it is inappropriate to honor Stuart, a Confederate cavalry commander and major general, at one of the most racially diverse high schools in the county. Opponents said it was a financially wasteful attempt at erasing history.
Strauss, the School Board’s chairwoman, acknowledged the importance of tradition but said having a Justice High would convey a commitment to “justice for all — for all races, all backgrounds, all religions and all cultures.”
“I know traditions are hard, but this is really about more,” Strauss said. “It is about standing up for the rights of all people.”
But it’s likely that the call to name the school Justice High will face opposition.
Schultz, who represents the Springfield district, said renaming the school Justice would be vague and would not align with residents’ wishes. When community members voted, she said, they probably intended the school to be named after the Supreme Court justice, not “a random word in the English dictionary.”
She said she plans on submitting two motions. The first would strip the high school of the initials “J.E.B.” so that it is simply called “Stuart.” The School Board previously considered that option, and it was the name that received the greatest support in the nonbinding community vote.
The second would rename the school after Mendez.
Those who have advocated naming the school for Mendez point to its demographics: The school is 54 percent Hispanic, 22 percent white, 13 percent Asian, 9 percent black and 2 percent multiracial, according to Virginia Department of Education data.
Mendez, according to his children, came from humble beginnings before becoming a respected World War II colonel who went on to work in education.
“It is the most reasonable, the most laudable,” Schultz said. “Here is a gentleman who came from nothing, in terms of circumstances and . . . lifted himself up.”
The Fairfax County School Board voted three months ago to drop the Stuart name, but that hardly ended the controversy. Picking a new name has been no less fraught.