Schools in a Virginia county must reinstate confederate designations

After an hours-long meeting, the Shenandoah County School Board voted early Friday morning to reinstate the names of three federal officials to schools in the district.

With the vote, the district appears to be the first in the nation to return confederate designations to schools delisted after the summer of 2020, according to researchers at the Montgomery, Ala.-based Equal Justice Initiative.

The vote reversed a decision made four years ago when the killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide calls for a racial reckoning. In a virtual meeting in July 2020, a summer of pandemics and protests, the board voted 5-1 to drop the names of two schools, Ashby-Lee Elementary and Stonewall Jackson High, which were inconsistent with a recently passed resolution condemning racism. The schools were renamed Honey Run and Mountain View the following year.

But a furor was unleashed in a rural county in the Virginia mountains. People flocked to school board meetings, denouncing name changes as secretive, rushed with little notice, and expressing deep displeasure at the cultural changes being forced upon them.

After a referendum in 2022 ended in a tie, the name changed. But detractors vowed that Stonewall Jackson would be revived. And on Friday, he.

“When you read about this man — who he was, what he stood for, his character, his faith, his leadership, what a godly man he was — those standards he had were far higher than any leadership in the school system in 2020,” said Tom Street, a board member. . He and four of his five colleagues later voted to bring back Jackson and other names.

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The province, which is more than 90 percent white, is not alone in reversing its 2020 decisions. Across the U.S., several measures were taken in 2020 and 2021, including new classroom curricula on the nation’s racial history.reduced or eliminated From the years. Politicians have railed against “critical race theory” and schools have Symbols restored It was condemned as racially offensive. But as of Friday, it appears no one has brought back confederate names.

The school board’s vote did not come as a shock. Many of the signs taken from Stonewall Jackson High were placed in storage rather than discarded, as if awaiting return. All three board members who voted in 2022 to put in new names decided against running for re-election the following year.

“We were burned out,” said Marty Helsey, a 73-year-old farmer who once worked.

When the issue first arose in 2020, Mr. Helsey was the only one to vote, urging the board to take more time to make a decision. But in 2022, he hopes the district will make progress.

Before Friday’s vote, Mr. Helsey said, “Can’t let it go. “It’s been four years! The Civil War only lasted four years!

Three conservatives won open seats on the board in 2023, pledging, among other things, to get the “woke left-wing agenda” out of schools. They don’t campaign specifically on school names, although many residents can guess where they stand.

In April, a group calling itself the Coalition for Better Schools submitted a letter to the school board about the naming issue. The committee said it conducted a survey of the areas of the district served by the two schools and found “overwhelming support for restoring” the names. There are questions about the reliability of these results: Fewer than one in seven recipients gave a complete survey – but even so, the team agreed to take the matter up.

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Thursday night, scores of residents gathered in the middle school cafeteria for a board meeting that went past midnight, including four hours of public comment.

Among the dozens who spoke out against restoring the old names were white county residents descended from Confederate soldiers and black residents who were among the first to integrate local schools. Several speakers insisted that Stonewall Jackson High was named after Virginia in 1959 during “massive opposition” to integration. Others emphasized the irony of opening the meeting with a pledge of allegiance to a flag that Jackson had raised in battle.

“I think it’s unfair to me that it’s debatable to restore the name,” said Aliyah Ogle, 14, whose mother was one of two black people in her class at Stonewall Jackson High at the time, at least until Friday’s vote, and she planned to attend the school next year. Jackson died fighting for slavery, Alia said. “If he had won, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend public school and I wouldn’t be speaking here today.”

People who wanted the old names back repeatedly told Stonewall Jackson that they didn’t see the racism people were talking about and that their black classmates didn’t complain to them about it. Those speakers insisted that the division in the community was introduced by the board’s vote in 2020, which they saw as part of an “awakening movement” that “spread across the country like a dirty cancer.”

“Some people say the names of the schools are offensive,” said Fred Neese, 69, a chicken farmer. “I feel sad that they are besmirching the good names of our forefathers. It saddens me that the previous board was not straight with the people.

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Around 11:30 am, the board members started talking about the issue one by one. One denied identity politics, another recited a prayer for healing.

The board’s chairman, a retired Army colonel, said racism and civil strife are far less common in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Another member, Latino and the group’s only minority member, said those raising racist claims may mean well but are “misled by those who seek segregation to bolster their political ideology.”

But after what they saw as a flawed and undemocratic decision four years ago, most of the group said they wanted to do what the majority of the community wanted: to restore the Confederate names.

After midnight, they voted to put things back to the way they were.

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