Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Misrepresentations By Those Seeking Name Change

By Denise Patton-Pace

Matt Delaney’s June 14 article “Fairfax Co. School Board to Vote on J.E.B. Stuart Name Change in July,” was an accurate and impartial assessment of the Fairfax County School Board work session proceedings and my presentation. To his credit, Mr. Delaney reported that “Fairfax [County] has a zero [tolerance] bullying rule, yet ‘changers’ have bullied the community and student body to push forward this name change. The students are intimidated in the classroom by ‘changer’ teachers and called ‘racists’ and ‘white supremacists’ by ‘changer’ students.”

The students in particular have endured this offensive behavior for two years, yet they steadfastly reject a name change in surveys, as did the J.E.B. Stuart High School community. However, our stakeholder community’s vote to keep the school’s name was rebuffed by several school board members who are working in close collaboration with a national lobbying organization’s countywide membership to further their political agenda and force a name change on our unyielding community and student body.

The school board has yet to define “compelling need” as required by its regulation and after two years of lobbying the Changers have yet to prove any. However, the Keepers have advanced compelling needs to retain the name. The voters and taxpayers of the Stuart community have made it clear that a name change is unwelcome. The name change was originally to be a local decision and should be. Our stakeholder community maintains that any and all monies under consideration for a name change should be used to address the dire needs of J.E.B. Stuart H.S. students rather than cater to a specific agenda perpetrated primarily by those not affected by, nor responsible for, the cost of a name change. As an educational entity the School Board has a responsibility to base its decisions on historical and contextual truths. The Fairfax County School Board has a responsibility to uphold its own Code of Conduct’s conflict of interest clause and not waste taxpayer money deliberating personal political agendas. The school board must uphold its mission (i.e. to foster the best interests of county students). The school board has a moral imperative to denounce, not validate, Changer bullying, hostile name calling and aggressive behaviors that undermine the values that its Portrait of a Graduate seeks to instill in students.

History is misrepresented by Changers’ statements. Allegations about J.E.B. Stuart fighting for “the values of the Confederacy of slavery, white supremacy and racism” and that Stuart “fought to keep slaves in chains” are contentious sound bites designed to incite. Northern slave states fought Southern slave states during the Civil War. General Grant held slaves. The North fought to preserve the Union. The South fought for independence. Facts are facts. Context is critical.

One cannot generalize Virginia Civil War history. There were many reasons the various states seceded. Historical documentation confirms that Virginia seceded in defense of state’s rights. On February 13, 1861, an elected delegation of Virginia voted against seceding from the United States. Only after multiple provocative events and a federal proclamation by the Lincoln Administration requiring states to provide soldiers did Virginia vote to secede from the Union in May 1861. J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee resigned their U.S. Army commissions and followed their homeland of Virginia into secession. (Of note: The phrase “these United States are” describes a collection of independent states and is referenced in the 1865 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as “the United States are.” The Civil War changed the definition and today, the United States is a collection of unified states.) Historically J.E.B. Stuart’s overall military reputation eclipses his service as a Confederate officer. The Smithsonian this summer is offering a day tour focusing on his military strategy.

One cannot generalize desegregation in Fairfax. The Changers’ initial petition to change the name vilified the 1958 Fairfax County School Board that fulfilled the Brown v Board of Education mandate to desegregate. At least three 1958 FCSB members openly opposed Massive Resistance, and in the end, Fairfax was the first county in the state to fully integrate.

Princeton, and now UVA, acknowledge their responsibility to educate students about the complicated legacies of their institutions. As an educational body it is incumbent upon the Fairfax County School Board to shun political motivations and pressure from organized lobbying groups and truthfully educate students about the complex history of Virginia and Fairfax County. It’s time to dispense with vitriolic sound bites, bullying and intimidation. We need to factually and thoughtfully examine our Civil War legacy and the ultimate sacrifice J.E.B. Stuart and hundreds of thousands of soldiers (Northern and Southern) made that conclusively unified our nation. We need to recognize and be proud of the fact Fairfax was the first county in the state of Virginia to fully integrate.

Keep the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School.