A mascot was chosen and new signs were printed. The gym floor logo, marquees and placards were stripped or replaced in recent months. Fresh band and cheerleader uniforms had arrived.
And, on Aug. 28, high school students in Falls Church walked into a newly renamed school.
Cheerleaders raised pompoms in the air, and band members played a fight song, marking the first day at Justice High School — formerly known as J.E.B. Stuart High School — and the start of the school year in Fairfax County.
They were among the tens of thousands of public schoolchildren across Northern Virginia who returned to school last week and the several thousand more who are scheduled to begin after Labor Day.
But for Julia Clark, a senior at Justice who was part of the effort to rename the Falls Church high school, the first day assumed more significance.
The school was renamed in October, following a drawn out, contentious debate that divided community members and alumni. Those who supported a new name argued the school should no longer be named after Stuart, a Confederate general who was from Patrick County. Opponents decried the effort as a costly attempt to rewrite history.
Clark, a descendant of slaves, said imagery of Stuart in the school’s weight room and hallways made her feel ashamed.
“Students of color are placed in places where they feel discomfort at a constant rate, and a lot of times these students of color are told to disregard that discomfort — don’t rock the boat, don’t make a difference,” said Clark, 17. “That my community is responsible for making a true difference ... makes me really proud.”
In January, students chose wolves as the school’s mascot to replace the raiders. School officials estimate it will cost about $428,000 to replace fixtures, equipment and clothing with a new name and logo.
Donors have contributed about $91,000, said Debbie Ratliff, a Justice parent who has helped fundraise to help offset the cost.
Fairfax is Virginia’s largest school system, with more than 190,000 students.