Virginia NAACP Sues School Board Over Restoration of Confederate Leader Names

Virginia NAACP Sues School Board Over Restoration of Confederate Leader Names

The Virginia NAACP chapter and five students sued the Shenandoah County school board in federal court on Tuesday. The board of six people had agreed to restore the names of Confederate war leaders to two public schools.

The lawsuit, which was first reported by NBC News, says that the school board made “an unlawful and discriminatory educational environment for Black students,” as stated in a news release.

The lawsuit says that the board broke 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 when they put back the Confederate names.

The controversial measure was passed by the school board in Shenandoah County 5-1 on May 10. This is a change to a decision made in 2020 that changed the names of schools that were connected to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Turner Ashby, who led the pro-slavery Southern states during the Civil War.

The old name of Mountain View High School was changed back to Stonewall Jackson High School. Honey Run Elementary School used to be called Ashby-Lee Elementary School.

The president of the Virginia NAACP, the Rev. Cozy Bailey, said in a statement, “I believe 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 by their vote to name public schools after military leaders of the Confederate States of America.”

“As students walk through the halls of the renamed Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School, they will be reminded of the ways the Confederacy slaved and discriminated against people of African descent.” “This neighborhood deserves better,” Bailey said.

Dennis C. Barlow, who is the chairman of the school board, did not answer right away when an email was sent asking for his thoughts on the case.

A earlier version of the school board took down the Confederate names four years ago, after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, which sparked a national racial reckoning. Some towns got rid of Confederate symbols and statues of Confederate generals because of calls for racial justice and equality.

But in the past few months, the conservative Coalition for Better Schools asked Shenandoah County to bring back 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 said in a letter on April 3.

The people who were on the school board at the time seemed to be swayed by that point. The five members who voted in favor of the proposal also said they thought the choice about 2020 was made too quickly and without enough input from the community.

In the past ten years, images of the Confederacy have stoked deep political and social divisions across the country.

In June 2015, a racist mass shooting happened at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This caused people to argue about flying the Confederate flag in public and honoring the Confederacy. The South Carolina government decided that year to take down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House in Columbia.

After two years, the deadly “Unite the Right” protest brought together hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. They broke into the college town in part to protest the planned removal of a figure of Lee from Market Street Park, which used to be called Lee Park.

After Floyd was killed and there were huge protests against racism, the history of the Confederacy once again became a source of disagreement across the country. A count from the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that at least 160 public Confederate symbols were taken down or moved from public places in 2020.

More and more, conservative groups across the U.S. are fighting back against efforts to deal with race in schools. These include efforts to stop students from talking about their racial identity in the classroom, ban library books with racial themes, and make diversity plans illegal.

The Virginia chapter of the NAACP and the families of the students are being helped by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the law company Covington & Burling LLP.

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