Below are excerpts from from a current student’s letter to the Fairfax County School Board. It conveys the compelling truth of student body’s lack of support for a name change.
The name change has painfully divided our community. I have followed the debate closely and with care to avoid falling into the pitfalls of biased rhetoric and blatant hate radiating from both sides.
This debate was sparked two years ago by a group of students who felt passionately about their cause. However, their personal beliefs did NOT represent those of the student body, despite their characterization of themselves as representatives of Stuart as a school community.
They did not speak for us, as they claimed, and in fact did not even speak TO us about this issue until it grew to the point where it seeped into debate during school day in April 2016. This was the first time that the vast majority of my peers had even heard about a name change, including myself. Yet, this small group of students had been working under the guise of representing our collective opinion for nearly a year. Now, are left with the detritus of what they started.
To this day student opinion has been largely disregarded or misrepresented. The students who speak the loudest speak for the change and actively shut down their peers who even question or who simply seek more information on their position. This has been exacerbated by adults on both sides who have created a toxic and volatile environment that precludes any respectful discussion. I want to bring a different view to the table, for myself and for my peers who are too afraid to come forward or do not know how.
Stuart is an extremely diverse school. Even more than this, however, we are the most welcoming, respectful, and tolerant group of students and faculty I have ever experienced in my years in Fairfax County. Our diversity breeds acceptance, not hate. It also brings challenges in the form of a large, low income student population that unites us. Stuart’s motto is We Are One. We do not allow ourselves to be divided by class, race, religion, income or social group. Our differences serve as an opportunity for us to learn and celebrate.
However, the name change process has painted our school as quite the opposite of what it is. Those who seek to change the name justify their actions by perpetuating rhetoric claiming that the name fosters hate within our school. This is not the case. In fact, the name change debate has sparked more hatred than the name ever did.
As you have read, the work done by the finance subcommittee decribes ad nauseum the financial burden that would be forced upon our school community. Beyond the funds that would presumably be covered by the county, there is an exhaustive list of costs that students and parents must bear. Many of these are personal items and sports gear that students and parents wear to show their pride in our incredible school. Some have been passed down from student to student.
Unlike many of our sister schools, the Stuart community cannot bear these additional costs, especially not all at once. And as many before me have testified, the piecemeal approach to changing the name would destroy the student pride already injured by the negative image of our school being perpetuated in the press and debate surrounding this issue.
This process has been deeply flawed, with a “public debate” in which one side’s argument hinges in large part on an inaccurate and hateful representation of our school, while the other is perceived to defend the honor of a confederate general. And in all, student voices – beyond the few that speak for the minority of our student body – have been silenced. The bottom line is that Stuart is a special place.
Our diversity is our greatest strength and also our greatest challenge. We CANNOT bear the financial or emotional burden of this change, nor is such a change truly warranted given the costs and the process.