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Anti-LGBTQ incidents reported at Falls Church, West Potomac high schools

Falls Church High School entrance (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 12:45 p.m. on 6/16/2023) As Pride Month got underway, a pair of hate incidents targeting the LGBTQ community shook up Falls Church and West Potomac high schools.

At Falls Church High School (7521 Jaguar Trail) in West Falls Church, a student admitted to stealing a rainbow Pride flag from the school and burning it, principal Ben Nowak said in a message to the school community on June 6.

According to Nowalk’s letter, a circulating video that the student recorded of the flag burning captured “another young person…using homophobic and hate-filled language towards the LGBTQ+ community.”

Nowalk emphasized that Fairfax County Public Schools and Falls Church High School “will not tolerate this kind of behavior” as it goes against “the kind of school community we seek to cultivate.”

“Each and every student in FCHS has the right to feel safe and affirmed in our school,” he wrote. “June is Pride Month, when we recognize the resilience and determination of the many individuals who are fighting to live freely and authentically. We stand with those facing an ongoing struggle against discrimination and injustice. This is sadly more evident today given this hateful act.”

An FCPS spokesperson indicated that the student has been disciplined, but the school system can’t share further details due to federal laws protecting the privacy of students and families.

“Please know we take such incidents of hate seriously and appropriate disciplinary actions are always taken,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said.

The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed that the theft of the Pride flag, which was displayed outside a classroom trailer, was reported to its school resource officer (SRO) at the school.

“The SRO determined that a juvenile stole the flag,” the FCPD said. “The SRO discovered that the flag was reportedly burned by another juvenile. The juveniles have been referred to the juvenile justice system.”

Also last week, graffiti with messages described as antisemitic and homophobic was painted on the “spirit rock” outside West Potomac High School (6500 Quander Road) in Belle Haven, according to a message to families from principal Dr. Tanganyika Millard.

The graffiti was discovered the morning of June 7, when the community gathered at the school for the Class of 2023 graduation ceremony.

“It has always been a point of pride that we live in a diverse and caring community,” Millard wrote. “To see these symbols of hate at the space that welcomes others to our school is devastating. We will make every effort to find those responsible and hold them accountable.”

The FCPD said it doesn’t have a record of any reports of antisemitic graffiti at West Potomac High School last week.

In response to the incidents, FCPS Pride, an advocacy organization for LGBTQIA students, staff, family and allies, announced earlier this week that it will hold a Pride Rally Against Hate at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road) in Merrifield today (Thursday).

The rally will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. before the Fairfax County School Board’s meeting, which will include a proclamation honoring Pride Month.

“Hate incidents…against all communities have been accelerating in FCPS, and we demand by our presence that the system take action,” FCPS Pride said in a media advisory.

Moult confirmed that FCPS is currently developing a system for tracking hate and bias incidents, as previously reported by WTOP.

The school system announced last month that it would hire an investigator to look into an anonymous email that complained about Oakton High School’s former Black cheerleading coaches.