Virginia NAACP sues school board for reinstating Confederate names on schools

The school board's action reversed a 2020 decision to remove the Confederate names against a backdrop of nationwide protests over racial injustice.
Stonewall Jackson statue
Posted at 12:50 PM, Jun 12, 2024

The Virginia NAACP sued a county school board Tuesday over its reinstatement of Confederate military names to two schools, accusing it of embracing segregationist values and subjecting Black students to a racially discriminatory educational environment.

The school board in Shenandoah County voted 5-1 last month to revert the name of Mountain View High School back to Stonewall Jackson High School, and that of Honey Run Elementary to Ashby Lee Elementary. The vote reversed a 2020 decision to remove the original names against a backdrop of nationwide protests over racial injustice.

The federal lawsuit states that Black students compose less than 3% of the school system's population. Plaintiffs include five students — identified by their initials and described as Black, White and biracial — and their parents.

The Associated Press sent an email seeking comment to school board chair Dennis C. Barlow.

The NAACP wrote that students will be "required against their will to endorse the violent defense of slavery pursued by the Confederacy and the symbolism that these images have in the modern White supremacist movement."

For example, the lawsuit said an incoming freshman, who is Black, would be forced to play sports as a member of the Stonewall Jackson "Generals." And she would have to wear a uniform "adorned with a name and logo that symbolizes hatred, White supremacy, and Massive Resistance to integration."

If the student doesn't fully participate in school sports or other activities, she may miss out on future opportunities, including playing college sports, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg.

The NAACP alleges that the Confederate school names violate the students' First Amendment rights, which include the right "not to express a view with which a person disagrees." It also cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, which "prohibits racial discrimination in state-supported institutions."

A statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson is removed in Richmond, Virginia.

U.S. News

In reversal, Virginia school board votes to restore Confederate names to 2 schools

AP via Scripps News
7:14 PM, May 10, 2024

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which maintains a database of more than 2,000 Confederate memorials nationwide, was not aware of another case of a school system restoring a Confederate name that was removed, senior research analyst Rivka Maizlish said in May.

Overall, the trend of removing Confederate names and memorials has continued, even if it has slowed somewhat since 2020, she said, noting that the Army renamed nine installations named for Confederate leaders, and removed a Confederate memorial from Arlington National Cemetery.

The school board members in Shenandoah County who had voted in May to restore the Confederate names said they were honoring popular community sentiment. They said the previous board members who had removed the names in 2020 had ignored constituents and due process on the matter.

Elections in 2023 significantly changed the school board's makeup, with one board member writing in an op-ed for the Northern Virginia Daily that the results gave Shenandoah County "the first 100% conservative board since anyone can remember."

That board member, Gloria Carlineo, said during a board meeting in May that opponents of the Confederate names should "stop bringing racism and prejudice into everything" because it "detracts from true cases of racism."

The lone board member to vote against restoring the Confederate names, Kyle Gutshall, said he respected both sides of the debate but believed a majority of residents in his district wanted to leave the Mountain View and Honey Run names in place.

"I don't judge anybody or look down on anybody for the decision they're making," he said. "It's a complex issue."

During several hours of public comment, county residents spoke up on both sides of the issue.

Beth Ogle, a parent and longtime resident, said restoring the Confederate names is "a statement to the world that you do not value the dignity and respect of your minority students, faculty and staff."

Kenny Wakeman, a lifelong county resident, said the Stonewall Jackson name "stood proudly for 60 years until 2020," when he said the "actions of a rogue police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota," prompted a move to change the name, a reference to the killing of George Floyd that sparked nationwide protests and debate over racial injustice.

Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was a Confederate general from Virginia who gained fame at the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas in 1861 and died in 1863 after he was shot and had his arm amputated. Jackson's name was also removed from another high school in Virginia's Prince William County in 2020. That school was renamed Unity Reed High School.

Ashby Lee is named for both Gen. Robert E. Lee, a Virginia native who commanded Confederate forces, and for Turner Ashby, a Confederate cavalry officer who was killed in battle in 1862 near Harrisonburg. A high school near Harrisonburg is also named for Ashby.

The resolution approved by the school board states that private donations would be used to pay for the name changes.

Shenandoah County, a largely rural jurisdiction with a population of about 45,000, roughly 100 miles west of Washington, D.C., has long been politically conservative. In 2020, Republican Donald Trump won 70% of the presidential vote in Shenandoah, even as Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points.