FALLS CHURCH, Va. - A taxpayer watchdog group has uncovered public records they said show red flags in a school board's effort to remove a Confederate general's name from a Fairfax County high school.
Two years ago, a group of students at J.E.B. Stuart High School wanted the county to change the name of their high school because of Stuart's role in the Civil War, saying it represents a history of racism.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance said they obtained 10,000 pages of emails between Fairfax County school board members showing that they held discussions about changing the name of the high school in secret, a move that could have ultimately cost taxpayers $1 million.
“They are public officials,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. “Taxpayers pay their salaries. They need to be transparent about everything that they do. If this didn't cost a nickel or a dime, the transparency should scare a lot of people.”
The Falls Church high school entered the national spotlight in 2015 when students and even celebrities petitioned to change the name from the Confederate general to Thurgood Marshall High School, honoring the Supreme Court justice and civil rights activist.
“Is it necessary for this name change to occur? Is this going to make our kids smarter? Is this million dollars that is going to be spent, could that be spent elsewhere? Could this be spent on books, maybe sprucing up the building or helping poor kids in the area get a better education or more school lunches?” Williams said.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance requested the public records associated with the school’s renaming and the school board’s role after receiving a tip. Williams said they found red flags when it came to downplaying the $1 million price tag and keeping the school board members’ conversations under the radar. At one point, the emails stopped all together.
“We see transparency issues where there is one email where they say let’s take this conversation offline, and they were concerned that all their conversations would be FOIA-able, that you could get this through a [Freedom of Information Act],” Williams said. “So they were very cognizant of people potentially looking into this and this is before we requested any information.”
Williams warns political correctness will continue to come at a high cost.
“Where do we stop? Robert E. Lee?” he said. “There are a lot of names that are associated with the Civil War and the Confederacy. So where does it stop? At what point do people say enough is enough, we just have to move on from that and we are not going to pay millions of dollars because we have a small group of people who are offended by something.”
The Fairfax County school board released a statement that said in part:
“As directed by the school board, the working group will weigh the pros and cons of a name change and continue to ensure public engagement and determine the extent of support for change.”
They also said they will explore public and private partnerships to finance any name changes as well as examine ways to prevent any added burden to the school’s booster club, the Parent, Teacher, and Student Association and the school administration.
The committee studying this issue will present its findings to the superintendent later this month and the school board will consider those recommendations in June.