- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

For the third straight year, Virginia's first day of school has been marred by controversy, and this year it involves the law requiring all public schools to display posters reminding them of the national motto: "In God We trust."
Two years ago there was a mandatory minute of silence at the beginning of each day, and a year ago there was a required daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the phrase "one nation under God. "
The 2002 General Assembly passed legislation requiring public school districts to post the national motto "in a conspicuous place in each of their schools for all students to read." The law says that under "In God We Trust," the signs must say, "The National Motto enacted by Congress in 1956."
Critics of the new law say it crosses the line between the separation of church and state.
At Liberty Middle School in Clifton, the cafeteria tables didn't come on time, but other than that the first day went smoothly.
Liberty is the only new school this year in the Fairfax County public school system, which desperately needs new schools. Fairfax County is the largest school system in Virginia, the 12th-largest in the country, and continues to grow.
"We've been growing at the rate of 3,000 to 4,000 new students per year for about six or seven years," said schools spokesman Paul Regnier. "We've got 14,000 kids in trailers."
Liberty, he said, "is going to help a lot. But it's not going to solve the problem."
Four new schools are slated to open next year in the county, which should alleviate overcrowding for some of the system's 166,000 students and 13,000 teachers, Mr. Regnier said.
Liberty opened its doors yesterday to about 1,085 students under the supervision and direction of Principal Audra Sydnor, formerly principal at Lanier Middle School in Fairfax from 1997 to 2001.
Mrs. Sydnor said when she woke up, she "felt happy."
"This is the moment I've been waiting for, I'm working so hard for," she said over a hurried homemade lunch between afternoon meetings.
"We just want to get them in and get them fed, get them textbooks and get them acclimated," said Mrs. Sydnor.
All of that went fine, except for the cafeteria tables. Those had not arrived yet, but Fairfax County brought in temporary tables to fix the problem.
Students were excited as well.
"It's like, cool," said Mustafa Bouzihay, a 13-year-old eighth-grader. "You meet new people, make new friends."
Still, Mustafa was not looking forward to going back to school quite as much as Mrs. Sydnor.
"When I was in the summer, I wanted to go back to school," he said. "But when it came to school, and I started to read, I'm thinking, 'How long until summer?'"
"It's really big," Grace Ye, 14, said of her new school, where she is in eighth grade.
"It's a lot different from my old school," said Grace, who previously attended Rippon Middle School in Woodbridge.
Liberty is a 180,000-square-foot building with state-of-the-art technology, including full, high-speed Internet wiring. It cost $22.8 million to build the school, which was financed by the 1999 bond referendum.
"I think the biggest thing is that we have state-of-the-art technology. That's a big plus for the students," said Mrs. Sydnor.
Grace's father, Kyong Ye, 44, said through his daughter, who translated his Korean into English, that he was pleased with her new school.
Fairfax County schools began classes a full week later than Prince George's and Montgomery County public schools in Maryland because Virginia state law mandates that schools cannot begin until after Labor Day unless they get a waiver, said Mr. Regnier.
The Fairfax County schools system has 132 elementary schools (grades K-6), 19 middle schools (grades 7 and 8), three middle schools (grades 6-8), three secondary schools (grades 7-12), and 21 high schools (grades 9-12). The operating budget for the 2002-03 school year is $1.554 billion, with an average cost per student of $9,388.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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