Virginia NAACP filing suit against school board that restored names of Confederate leaders

June 11, 2024
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The Virginia chapter of the NAACP and five students plan to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the school board in Shenandoah County after the six-person body approved a proposal restoring the names of Confederate military leaders to two public schools.

The lawsuit, first reported by NBC News, argues that the school board created “an unlawful and discriminatory educational environment for Black students,” according to a news release announcing the legal action.

The suit alleges that the board, in restoring the Confederate names, violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Equal Education Opportunities Act.

The school board in Shenandoah County passed the controversial measure by a 5-1 margin on May 10, effectively reversing a 2020 decision that changed the names of schools that had been linked to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby, three men who led the pro-slavery Southern states during the Civil War.

Mountain View High School went back to the name Stonewall Jackson High School. Honey Run Elementary School went back to the name Ashby-Lee Elementary School.

“My belief is the Shenandoah County School Board reaffirmed their commitment to White supremacy and the celebration of a race-based rebellion against the United States of America with their vote to name public schools after military leaders of the Confederate States of America,” Rev. Cozy Bailey, the president of the Virginia NAACP, said in a statement.

“When students walk through the halls of renamed Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School, they will do so with inescapable reminders of Confederate legacies that enslaved and discriminated against African-descended people. This community deserves better,” Bailey added.

The organization plans to publicly announce the suit at a news conference shortly after 11 a.m. ET. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm Covington & Burling LLP are representing the Virginia chapter of the NAACP and the students’ families.

Four years ago, a previous incarnation of the school board stripped the Confederate names after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, fueling a national racial reckoning. The calls for racial justice and equity inspired some communities to remove Confederate symbolism and statues of Confederate generals.

In recent months, however, the conservative group Coalition for Better Schools petitioned Shenandoah County officials to reinstate the names of Jackson, Lee and Ashby. “We believe that revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community’s heritage and respect the wishes of the majority,” the coalition wrote in an April 3 letter.

The sitting members of the school board appeared to be swayed by that argument. The five members who voted in favor of the proposal also claimed the 2020 decision was made too quickly, without appropriate community input.

In the last decade, Confederate iconography has stoked fierce sociopolitical divides across the nation.

The anti-Black mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 led to debates about public displays of the Confederate flag and commemorations of the Confederacy. South Carolina officials voted to remove the Confederate flag from state Capitol grounds that year.

Two years later, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the deadly “Unite the Right” rally. They stormed the college town in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Lee from the city’s Market Street Park, formerly known as Lee Park.

In the wake of Floyd’s murder and massive protests against racism, the legacy of the Confederacy once again became the center of national division. At least 160 public Confederate symbols were taken down or moved from public places in 2020, according to a tally from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The vote in Shenandoah County last month came as conservative groups across the U.S. increasingly push back against efforts to reckon with race in America in educational environments, including efforts to curb classroom discussion of racial identity, ban library books dealing with racial themes, and outlaw diversity plans.



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