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Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Virginia NAACP sues school board that reinstated Confederate names | WFAE 90.7

By meerna Jun12,2024

When the Shenandoah County School Board voted last month to change the names of several schools to honor Confederate leaders such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, it created an “unlawful and discriminatory” environment for black students, according to the Virginia chapter of the NAACP – which now sues to change school names.

The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia are five students who say they do not want to be forced to glorify or represent historical figures who fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy.

“A cold wind is blowing across America, and it has especially chilled Shenandoah County.” The Rev. Cozy Bailey, president of the Virginia NAACP, said at a press conference Tuesday. The board’s recent decision, he said, harks back to the Jim Crow era of injustice and intimidation.

A controversial May 9 decision restored the names of Confederate generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby to two local schools. The names had been removed nearly four years earlier as part of a broad re-examination of U.S. monuments and landmarks.

“This move back has been met with negative reaction around the world,” Bailey said, “and the world is watching to see if these diverse seeds of hate and disenfranchisement take root and return Shenandoah County and the Commonwealth of Virginia to their original state. days when racial exclusion was the law of the land.”

School names are controversial

Last month, the Shenandoah school board voted to revert Mountain View High School to its former name, Stonewall Jackson High School, and to redesignate Honey Run Elementary School as Ashby-Lee Elementary School. Both schools are located in Quicksburg, Virginia.

At a controversial board meeting, opponents of the move – including some current students – noted that the 1959 decision to name schools after Confederate generals came at a time when Virginia leaders were fighting to maintain racial segregation in the state’s schools, despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling. of 1954 regarding Brown v. Topeka Kansas Board of Education. They said that by now adopting Confederate names, the board would brand their county as a haven for backward and racist thinking.

Supporters of reversing the 2020 change said removing the names of Confederate figures from schools was a “knee-jerk” response to police protests over the murder of George Floyd. They claim the removal was intended to erase the region’s history and silence its majority. Some also claimed that the change was adopted after a short debate and notice. Ultimately, the board approved the change back to the Confederate names by a 5-to-1 majority.

On Tuesday, a student who spoke at an NAACP news conference said the decision made her feel “unwelcome in a place I go to every day, which should never have happened.”

Shenandoah County School Board officials did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment. The board is scheduled to hold its monthly meeting on Thursday.

The lawsuit calls for a new change

The federal lawsuit seeks to preserve the schools’ current names, Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School, and prevent any future discriminatory names and symbols.

“Plaintiffs are not seeking damages in this case,” attorney Ashley Joyner Chavous of Covington & Burling said at Tuesday’s press conference. “They are looking for change – in the right direction.”

In the lawsuit, the Virginia NAACP argues that restoring the Confederate names violates four rights: the First and Fourteenth Amendments; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act.

Another lawyer involved in the case, Marja Plater of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said the Confederate names create serious problems for students of color.

“A black high school student who wants to play on the football team must wear a Stonewall Jackson ‘Generals’ uniform,” she said in a statement. “Students must honor a Confederate leader who fought to keep Black people in chains as slaves. Exposing children to this persistent racism and hatred harms their self-esteem and long-term health.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

By meerna

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