- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Officials in Stafford County are debating whether to name the area’s new high school in honor of the late President Ronald Reagan, an issue that has created a political rift in the community and among the county’s seven nonpartisan School Board members.

Some School Board members want the school to be named Ronald Reagan High School, which would make it the first school in Virginia and the fourth in the nation to take the name of the 40th president.

However, a commission in charge of naming the school recommended that it be called Mountain View High School, which falls in line with the county’s tradition of naming high schools for regional areas.

Yet, sentiment continues to grow among residents who want to honor Mr. Reagan, who died June 5, so the School Board now must decide between the two names.

Bob Hunt, a School Board member who is a Republican, thinks the county should honor Mr. Reagan because of his strategic defense actions and his personality.

“Militarily speaking, I’m very proud of what he did,” Mr. Hunt said. “The political debate in the country today is so harsh and not very civil. Ronald Reagan made us laugh and was the Great Communicator. Our schools have an obligation to teach more than just reading, writing and arithmetic — they should teach culture and society. By naming the school after a historic leader, we do that.”

School Board member Tom Villacres, who considers himself an independent, called Mr. Reagan a “great American,” but said naming the school after him is an unnecessary move that could divide residents.

“The process for naming the school has been politicized,” he said. “That has caused some people some real concern. We don’t want to base our decisions on politics. It should be based onwhat’s best for the community.”

The Stafford County Republican Committee has criticized School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy, who has said she opposes naming the school for Mr. Reagan. Mrs. Healy, who received the group’s endorsement in her 2003 re-election, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Mr. Villacres said naming the new facility Mountain View High School is ideal because the school is located on Mountain View Road and Choptank Road.

“That follows our guidelines and I think that’s the best name for the school,” he said.

Under the guidelines, high schools can be named for the street they face, for the historical or current name of the district or community where they are located or after a Stafford County resident of historical significance. The guidelines were adopted last October.

The elementary school near the new high school is named after Margaret Brent, the first female lawyer in the United States. Miss Brent is believed to have died in Stafford in 1671, but she played a prominent role in Maryland politics.

Officials believe Mr. Reagan did not have any ties to Stafford County.

The committee in charge of naming the new high school was made up of a county supervisor, a School Board member, the principal of the new school and a member of the Stafford Historical Society.

In June, the committee unanimously made its recommendation to the School Board and rejected the Ronald Reagan High School proposal because it was not consistent with the guidelines.

The School Board last night decided to postpone a decision until its Sept. 14 meeting. The new name must get four of the seven votes to pass.

The new high school is scheduled to open next fall.

Mr. Reagan already has three schools named in his honor. There is a Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, a Ronald Reagan Middle School in his hometown of Dixon, Ill., and a Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Bakersfield, Calif. The Department of Education does not track the names of schools nationwide.

Virginia has named many of its schools after presidents, particularly Virginia-born leaders including Woodrow Wilson, James Monroe and James Madison.

Mr. Hunt said Stafford County would benefit from honoring Mr. Reagan.

He said the flag flown at the U.S. Capitol when Mr. Reagan’s body was lying in state has been pledged to a school that was named after the former president. He said area residents have offered to contribute Reagan memorabilia, including an autographed copy of the former president’s autobiography, “An American Life.”

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