School board votes to drop high school's Confederate name

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — School board members voted Thursday night to rename a northern Virginia high school named for a Confederate general, ending two years of debate on the subject.

The Fairfax County board met late into the night as members tried to decide the fate of J.E.B. Stuart High School's name. Stuart, who was mortally wounded in an 1864 battle, was a slaveholding Confederate general.

The renaming process will start in the fall and the new name must be in place no later than the beginning of the 2019 school year, local media outlets report.

A year ago, the board pawned off the decision to a task force that it hoped would find a compromise. Instead, the task force fractured so badly it issued two separate reports — one in favor of changing the name, one opposed.

Stuart High, as it's more commonly known, opened in 1959 and the school board chose the name in 1958, when Virginia was embroiled in what became known as Massive Resistance to federal desegregation efforts.

Today, Stuart is one of the most diverse schools in Fairfax County, which hosts the 10th largest school district in the nation and one of the wealthiest. Fairfax County has grown into a sprawling suburb of the nation's capital.

The debate over the Stuart name change kicked off in earnest in 2015 when actress Julianne Moore, who attended Stuart in the '70s, and Hollywood producer Bruce Cohen, a Stuart alumnus, launched a petition demanding the name change.

Proponents of a change said it's especially hurtful for students of color to have to attend a school named for a defender of the Confederacy.

Opponents cited estimates indicating it would cost $600,000 to $900,000 to change the name — removing Stuart from the school facade, a stone monument, athletic turf, scoreboards, team uniforms and everything else, though name-change supporters have questioned whether the figure is inflated.

The debate over the school name comes as the national question of how to honor Confederate heroes, if at all, is flaring up again. In New Orleans, Richmond and elsewhere, civic leaders have weighed removal of Confederate monuments.

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