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

The school board members who voted for the restoration said previous members ignored popular sentiment and due process when they stripped the names.
Schools Confederate Names
Posted at 6:14 PM, May 10, 2024

A Virginia school board voted Friday to restore the names of Confederate military leaders to a high school and an elementary school, four years after the names were removed amid nationwide protests calling for a reckoning over racial injustice.

In a reversal experts believe was the first of its kind, Shenandoah County's school board voted 5-1 to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary.

Friday's vote reversed a decision by the school board in 2020 when school systems across Virginia and the South were removing Confederate names from schools and other public locations in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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

Overall, the trend toward removal of 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.

In Virginia, local governments had been banned from removing Confederate memorials and statues until the law was changed in 2020, though the statute did not apply to school names.

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On Friday, school board members who voted to restore the Confederate names said the previous board ignored popular sentiment and due process when the names were stripped.

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 the six-hour meeting that began Thursday night 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 longtime resident with children in the school system, 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 Floyd that propelled nationwide protests and debate over racial injustice.

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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 is now known as 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, Virginia. 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 the nation's capital, has long been politically conservative. In 2020, Republican Donald Trump won 70% of the presidential vote in Shenandoah, even as Biden won Virginia by 10 points.

In Virginia, local governments were banned from removing Confederate memorials and statues until the 2020 law lifted those restrictions. Statues of Confederate leaders, including Lee, Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were removed from Richmond's famed Monument Avenue in 2020 and 2021 following protests and vandalizing of the statues.

Maizlish, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it's unusual, though not unprecedented, that conservative jurisdictions like Shenandoah removed Confederate names in the first place.

She said that while there's no evidence other jurisdictions have restored Confederate names or monuments, she is "always concerned about people who work to continue to promote Lost Cause propaganda."