Stonewall Jackson High’s name ‘a constant reminder’

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For Lubna Azmi, a 2019 graduate of Stonewall Jackson High, the school’s renaming is long overdue.

“We’ve made the name work for us,” said Azmi, now a student at John Hopkins University. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace the change.”

The fact that the school was named after Stonewall Jackson in the first place was horrendous, Azmi said.

Prince William County Public Schools is looking to quickly rename its two schools that have carried the name of the Confederate general for decades. A virtual meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, June 22, will offer the public a chance to suggest new names for Stonewall Jackson High and Stonewall Middle.

The conversation about race is center stage nationwide after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, but Stonewall Jackson High has been the focus of the school division’s efforts to address racial inequities since last spring.

The effort to redraw boundaries for the planned Gainesville High School brought questions of segregation to the forefront, with teachers and students at Stonewall Jackson calling for change.

Azmi noted at the time that Stonewall Jackson is a great school — “and that’s greatly due to its diversity.”

In response, school administrators have prioritized improving older high schools and providing new speciality programs for those communities in tandem with new school construction.

Manassas resident Eden Shenal, a 2019 Stonewall Jackson graduate now attending the University of Mary Washington, said the name change has been a long time coming.

“It just feels wrong to have the name,” she said. “This is a change that’s finally had to happen.”

Shenal hopes the high school’s new name will reflect the school’s community, such as honoring an alumnus.

“It should be left up to the school community,” she said. “There should be some polling of the teachers and students [for potential names].”

Renaming the two schools will be a good step to address injustices in the community, Shenal said.  “Ultimately, it’s such a diverse community. Respect for that needs to be reflected in the county moving forward.”

After a week of protests in the Manassas community in response to the death of Floyd, and a day after Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state would remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Prince William schools Superintendent Steve Walts called June 5 for the county to rename the two schools.

Walts also has proposed a ban on wearing or flying of a Confederate flag on school property and creating a community panel to review the school division’s agreement with the Prince William police.

On June 10, the school board unanimously supported a resolution calling for an “anti-racist learning environment where every child is respected and valued.”

“Our school division can be and will be a sanctuary of safety in our community and a beacon of light for the world, as we build and strengthen trust with those we serve, and we model the acceptance of all people,” the resolution stated.

School board member Adele Jackson represents the Brentsville District, where Stonewall Jackson High is located.

“When running for school board, I committed myself to listening and responding to the community, particularly the ones most impacted by any change,” Jackson told InsideNoVa. “I encourage open communication at all levels as we create a process to consider any naming changes.”

Chuck Ronco, a teacher at Stonewall Jackson High, told InsideNoVa the high school’s faculty, staff and students care about each other.

“Honestly I don’t think it was the first thing on students’ minds, but it was always a constant reminder,” Ronco said about the name. “If we can change the name so students don’t have to walk under a Confederate’s name, if that makes even one student more comfortable, it’s worth it.”

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