The Fairfax County School Board has voted to rename J.E.B. Stuart High, moving to rebrand a Northern Virginia school that had been named for a Confederate general.
The board voted 7 to 2, with two abstentions, to change the name late Thursday during a raucous meeting that included an appearance by Civil War reenactors dressed in Rebel and Union army garb. The school board spent more than 2 1/2 hours discussing the measure before voting an hour shy of midnight.
The change will not take effect immediately, and a new name has not yet been decided. For now, the school remains J.E.B. Stuart High until options for a new name are submitted by the community during the next year.
The board also passed a motion calling for teachers in the next school year to offer brief lessons on the history of the names of all the campuses in Virginia’s largest system “in order for FCPS students to have a factual and historical understanding behind the names of our schools.”
The board’s action marks the end of a two-year campaign to rethink the future of a school named in 1958 — amid stalled integration efforts — in honor of the Confederate cavalry officer who died of wounds suffered in battle.
“It was not appropriate for this board to name a school for J.E.B. Stuart in 1958,” said school board member Ryan McElveen (At Large). “It would not be appropriate for this board to name a school for J.E.B. Stuart today; and it is time for the Fairfax County School Board to do as we teach our students — learn from the mistakes of history, do our best to correct them, and move on.”
In the time that it took the local government body to come to its decision, South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in 2015, and the New Orleans mayor and city council ordered in 2017 that four statues commemorating the Confederacy be taken down.
Yet the Fairfax board on Thursday night nearly approved a motion to delay the name-change altogether. The proposal was defeated on a 6-to-5 vote.
In the end, the board passed a motion, brought by Sandy Evans (Mason), that proposes — “in a spirit of compromise,” Evans said — removing the initials “J.E.B.” and renaming the school simply “Stuart High.” But that suggestion is not binding.
In addition, the board did not take any action to rename a number of other schools in the county also named for prominent Confederates, including Robert E. Lee High, Lanier Middle and Sangster Elementary.
The effort to rename the high school began as part of a student-led campaign and received a boost from an online petition that received 35,000 signatures. The petition, started by Oscar winners Bruce Cohen and Julianne Moore — who met at J.E.B. Stuart in the 1970s — brought Hollywood flair to the simmering debate about the legacy of the high school’s Rebel namesake.
The high school is one of the most diverse in Fairfax, with more than 78 percent of the school’s 2,130 students being either Hispanic, black, Asian or multiracial, while whites comprise 22 percent.
Last summer, the board created an ad hoc committee to review the issue. But the committee members ultimately could not agree on a path forward and submitted competing recommendations to the board.
The divisive and protracted debate came to a head Thursday. County residents who live in the neighborhood surrounding the school offered impassioned calls for the school to be rebranded. “Keepers” argued that the efforts to change the name represented a whitewashing of history.
In passing the motion, the board sent the matter to the office of Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who must organize meetings with the community to settle on possible names for the school. The board will then reconvene before 2019 to vote on the new name.