Virginia school board votes to restore Confederate names

A Virginia school board rejected a proposal by two schools to return to Confederate names after a bitter disagreement in the city.

The Shenandoah County School Board voted 5-1 to restore the names of Quicksburg’s Stonewall Jackson High and Ashby-Lee Elementary School.

Community members demanded the change, claiming the 2020 name change was unpopular.

The vote was the first such reversal in the United States.

A large crowd gathered at the school board’s general meeting Thursday to hear arguments from several residents on both sides of the issue.

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and a summer of racial unrest, Virginia and other states removed Confederate statues from public spaces.

Then-Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a letter to school board presidents across the state: “It is time to change school names and mascots that resemble Confederate leaders or supporters.”

The Shenandoah County School Board took action three days later, renaming Stonewall Jackson High to Mountain View High and Ashby-Lee Elementary to Honey Run Elementary.

The schools were named after Confederate generals Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson and cavalry commander Turner Ashby.

In doing so, the six-member panel also passed a resolution condemning racism and affirming a “commitment to an inclusive school environment for all.”

Some critics saw the name change as a hasty and undemocratic move and have since attempted to restore the schools’ Confederate names when local elections changed the school board.

The 2022 vote on the issue failed 3-3, but the three who voted against the amendment have since been replaced on the school board.

In April, a local conservative community group, the Coalition for Better Schools, returned the request, citing public opinion polls that “showed overwhelming support for its restoration.”

“These groups have historical significance,” the group wrote in a letter to the school board, and “this decision is necessary to honor the heritage of our community and honor the wishes of the majority.”

According to local media, the group is raising private funds to cover costs related to the name change, such as replacing school signs.

Its efforts are drawing attention across the state, and the Virginia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights group, urged the school board in a letter Wednesday to “use your power in a way that positively impacts all children and their families in your district.”

Local resident Neil Thorne, who campaigned with the group Claim the Names against the reversal, warned “it will irreversibly damage the image of our community”.

Minority members of the community still remember when Stonewall Jackson High was “whites only” and they had to be sent to schools in neighboring counties, he said.

“The naming of these schools was not accidental, but reflected the individual practices of the time,” he said in a statement.

“The people who suffer from it are not former strangers – they are people we know, they are our friends and neighbors.”

Shenandoah County in Northern Virginia was once a stronghold of the pro-slavery South, and its vast valley offered food, security, and transportation advantages.

During the American Civil War, Confederate forces fought several successful military campaigns there against the Union Army.

The county currently has more than 44,000 inhabitants and is predominantly white.

Black residents often live and work in cities with Confederate flags on their front porches. Many flag wavers defend it as a celebration of heritage, not a symbol of hate.

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