February has been a hectic month for McLean’s high schools.
While Langley High School drew some heat this week for a slightly cheeky book display sign in its library, rival McLean High School was shaken earlier this month by a different kind of conflict over messaging.
An unidentified individual defaced a rock in front of the school used by clubs and athletic teams around 9:23 p.m. on Feb. 8 by painting “ALM” — an acronym standing for “All Lives Matter,” the student newspaper, The Highlander, reported.
The rock had been decorated a week earlier by the school’s Black Student Union, which painted phrases like “BLM” — Black Lives Matter — and “I’m Black and proud” in recognition of Black History Month.
McLean High School Principal Ellen Reilly said in a newsletter on Monday (Feb. 14) that the school was “disheartened” to see the BSU’s message “met with vandalism.”
“At McLean High School, we believe unequivocally that Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We are invested in creating a culture in which all students and staff experience belonging as Highlanders. As such, we will address all issues of racism and discrimination at our school.”
According to The Highlander, school administrators have identified the person behind the “ALM” message, which has now been covered by white paint, but it was unclear what discipline they could potentially face.
Fairfax County Public Schools declined to comment when asked to confirm if a culprit had been identified.
The Fairfax County Police Department said it was aware of the incident but ultimately determined that no crime had been committed, since the school allows anyone to paint on the rock.
“The school took care of it internally,” an FCPD spokesperson told Tysons Reporter.
McLean High School’s Black student population has marginally grown in recent years, from 73 students in September 2017 to 103 students, as of January. That’s still just 4.4% of the school’s 2,370 students.
The isolation that the school’s Black students experience inspired them to create the BSU this year, according to The Highlander.
The day after the defacing incident, BSU President Jasmine Andresol, one of the group’s founders, delivered a message to students that FCPS shared with Tysons Reporter:
Martin Luther King stated that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” On February 2nd our Black Student Union painted the rock in celebration of Black History month. It was vandalized last night.
As we walked to paint the rock last week, there were mixed emotions of joy and pride, but also fear. The fear was that someone would misunderstand the reason and meaning of why we decided to paint BLM on the rock. When you hear or see the words Black Lives Matter it does not mean that other lives do not. These words bring awareness to the struggles, injustices and racism that black people have endured in this country for far too long. The words that were meant to be a reminder to celebrate black history were seen as an opportunity to discourage our efforts.
We must continue as a school community to support, embrace and be kind to one another.
McLean High School students and staff also gathered at the rock after school to “stand in solidarity” with Black students, according to Reilly.
“We were uplifted to see how our student body came together to support one another,” Reilly said in her newsletter. “We are committed to keeping students at the center of our decisions and working alongside them to find a solution. As a school community we must continue to support and embrace one another. We are committed to learning and growing and building the best McLean High School for everyone.”
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