Virginia school board votes to restore names of Confederate generals to two schools

Virginia school board votes to restore names of Confederate generals to two schools
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(CNN) — Shenandoah County school board members in Virginia voted early Friday to restore the names of two schools that previously honored Confederate leaders, four years after those names had been removed.

The 5-1 vote came after hours of public comment during a meeting that began Thursday night, with people speaking for and against the issue. Vice President Kyle L. Gutshall was the only dissenting vote.

“I ask that when you cast your vote, you remember that Stonewall Jackson and others who fought on the side of the Confederacy in this area intended to protect the land, buildings and lives of those who were under attack,” said one woman urging the board to restore Confederate names. “Preservation is the focus of those who wish to restore the names.”

Gene Kilby, the last surviving son of James Wilson Kilby, a Virginia civil rights activist who helped desegregate schools in Virginia, criticized the decision to keep the names.

“Why are we here tonight to go back to a time in history that was very cruel, where hate and racism continued throughout this county and across America,” Kilby said. “Is this the kind of legacy they want to leave in Shenandoah County public school buildings?”

In the years since the death of George Floyd in 2020, the names of Confederate leaders, Confederate monuments and symbols have been removed from numerous schools, universities, military installations and even the windows of the Washington National Cathedral.

Almost four years ago, the Shenandoah County School Board made such a decision and decided to rename Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Ashby Lee Elementary School. The schools had been named in honor of Confederate generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby.

That 2020 decision was part of a resolution condemning racism and affirming the district’s “commitment to an inclusive school environment,” according to school board documents.

The schools have been called Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School since July 2021, according to board documents.

But the makeup of the school board is different now than in the 2020 decision: All six seats are filled by different people.

Changes could involve costly expenditure

After a resident group called The Coalition for Better Schools asked the board last month to consider restoring the schools’ original names, members discussed the issue in a work session, heard public comments and scheduled a vote on this week.

At an April 22 work session meeting, the six board members criticized how the names were changed in 2020, saying it was done incorrectly, rushed and lacked public input. Board member Gloria E. Carlineo said at the work session that she also “eroded” trust in the school board.

Carlineo told CNN that his vote would be based on how the names were changed in 2020. A decision he said was made in a matter of days and amid Covid-19 restrictions that limited community input.

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“So for me, the primary consideration is whether we, as a democratic nation of laws, will choose to ignore a decision made by a government body that exploited the Covid tragedy or correct a wrong action that has deeply divided our community. I choose the latter “Carlineo told CNN before Thursday’s meeting.

CNN has reached out to the other five board members for comment ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

Jessica Sager, spokesperson for Shenandoah County Public Schools (SCPS), had said the district had not yet obtained quotes on the estimated cost of a name change. In 2021, the district estimated it would spend more than $304,000 on costs related to renaming the two schools and renaming one middle school mascot, according to district documents.

Those costs were related to uniforms and equipment for athletic teams, resurfacing a gym floor, signage on buildings and scoreboards, among other items, former Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston told members of the the board during a meeting last year.

The motion says that if approved, private donations will be used for the restoration of school names and not by “school system or government tax funds, although SCPS will oversee disbursements related to restoration costs,” according to Thursday’s meeting agenda.

Some residents refuse to move forward with change, parent says

Parents and residents expressed opposition and support for the restoration of school names. In an April 3 letter to the school board, the Coalition for Better Schools said it believed “that revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community’s heritage and respect the wishes of the majority.”

The group told CNN before the vote took place that it “has full confidence in our current school board to listen to the voice of its constituents and follow the wishes of the majority in the county. Unfortunately, the previous school board did not have “We believe that ‘We the People’ is an important part of our Constitution and must be upheld at all levels of our government.”

Sarah Kohrs, the mother of two students who attend schools in the district, is among several parents and residents who said before the vote that they opposed restoring names linked to the Confederacy and were frustrated that it was being considered.

“It’s very frustrating to know that here we are, four years after that, and we still have a small part of the community that just refuses to move forward,” Kohrs told CNN.

She said the focus should be on what students want and need to be successful, such as fixing leaky roofs, a sound system for track meets, or having enough uniforms with current school names.

“We don’t even have all of our athletic equipment rebranded in 2020 yet. We’re still using old hurdles, sometimes with the Stonewall name,” Kohrs told CNN.

Shenandoah County Public Schools serve more than 5,600 students, and about 75% are white, 18% Hispanic and 3% black, according to data from the state education department.

CNN’s Paradise Afshar and Jillian Sykes contributed to this report.

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