Our Man in Arlington

September 12, 2018 3:32 PM0 comments

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I crashed (by invitation) the Sept. 7 “Last Hurrah” reunion of Washington-Lee High School alums, classes of ‘57 and ’58. Over drinks at the Rosslyn Marriott, this Yorktown grad enjoyed new friends.

I also gathered old generals’ thoughts (most, but not all, negative) about the plan to rename their alma mater. “Rewriting history. Political correctness. Let’s pause and reconsider.”

Similar opposition has appeared in yard signs with the insignia portraying the controversial Robert E. Lee reading “Keep the Name the Same.” At last month’s county fair, alums offered stickers and collected donations.

Their cause has been taken up by school board candidate Audrey Clement. At the Sept. 4 Arlington Civic Federation debate with School Board member Barbara Kanninen, Clement said the W-L name change was “rammed through with no public notice” and pledged if elected to reverse it.

At least one assertion by the keep-the-name group is subject to revision. The notion that W-L in 1960 was the first Virginia high school to integrate does not hold up against existence of “The Norfolk 17.” Those black junior and high school students won a case in January 1959 parallel to the case Arlington students won, as documented by Old Dominion University historians. Their ruling for immediate integration was handed down “within minutes” of the Arlington one, I’m told by Carmela Hamm, chair of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington.

W-L alum and basketball star Ed Hummer, who researches the subject in opposing a name change, told me he acknowledges Norfolk’s progressive feat and agrees W-L’s claim needs an asterisk.

The pending lawsuit brought by three W-L students and their parents has forced school board members to clam up on naming. “We believe the decision made by the School Board in June to revise the Naming of Facilities Policy and, as a result of that policy change, to direct staff to begin a process to rename Washington-Lee High School was appropriate,” said spokeswoman Linda Erdos, one of the defendants in the suit along with Kanninen and Superintendent Patrick Murphy. “Arlington Public Schools will respond in greater detail in the future and in accordance with the court processes.”

Jon Moseley, the plaintiffs’ attorney for the civil case in Arlington Circuit Court, showed me the complaint. It argues APS violated its transparency and community engagement processes when, after promising not to rush the process and timeline, the board voted June 7 for new guidelines that characterize Lee as an unsuitable legacy figure for school naming.

They argue the kids’ prospects for college extracurriuculars and adult employment would be harmed by changing W-L’s moniker. “Today the name of the school holds meaning based on its achievements, distinguished record, and place in the community, separate and apart from the names of historical figures,” it argues. Board members “abused their discretion” with a decision “arbitrary and capricious”

On Aug. 31, Mosley received the board’s motion to dismiss. School attorneys said the complaint doesn’t establish a legal mandate the board neglected. Its objections were mostly technical, saying the students lack standing because they will have graduated before the name changes. That is expected, Moseley said, and even if the judge agrees to dismiss, he would appeal to initiate discovery for documents he believes were not turned over.

On Sept. 6, the board announced members of the committee that will pick the next name.

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Both candidates in this November’s most contested Arlington election performed well at the Sept. 4 Civic Association forum.

Independent County Board member John Vihstadt stressed his role in saving money through cancellation or downscaling of infrastructure. He quoted an endorsement from a former school board member that his conservativism brings “inclusivity” to the table.

Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti promised to reduce vacant commercial office space while linking local issues with state and national ones. He scolded Vihstadt for failing to vote in 2016 for the one candidate, he said, who could have prevented a President Trump.

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