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Virginia School Board Votes Confederate Names Despite Community Divide

Virginia School Board Votes Confederate Names Despite Community Divide

In a contentious move that has stirred up deep-seated divisions within a Virginia town, the Shenandoah County School Board voted 5-1 to restore the names of Stonewall Jackson High and Ashby-Lee Elementary in Quicksburg, marking the first such reversal in the United States.

The decision, which saw a packed audience at the school board’s public meeting on Thursday, comes after community members campaigned for the restoration of the original names, arguing that the 2020 change was widely unpopular.

The renaming effort in 2020 followed the murder of George Floyd and widespread racial justice protests, prompting Virginia and other states to remove Confederate statues from public spaces. Then-Democratic Governor Ralph Northam had urged school boards to change names and mascots honoring Confederate figures.

In response, the Shenandoah County School Board had renamed Stonewall Jackson High as Mountain View High and Ashby-Lee Elementary as Honey Run Elementary, alongside a resolution denouncing racism and affirming commitment to inclusivity.

However, critics condemned the move as rushed and undemocratic. Following subsequent local elections, the composition of the school board changed, leading to renewed efforts to reinstate the Confederate names.

A conservative community group, the Coalition for Better Schools, spearheaded the restoration campaign, citing overwhelming support from citizen surveys. They argue that the original names hold historical significance and should be reinstated to honor community heritage.

The group plans to cover expenses related to the name reversal through private funds, drawing attention and scrutiny from organizations like the Virginia NAACP, which urged the school board to consider the broader impact on all district children and families.

Opponents of the name reversal, such as Neil Thorne from Claim the Names, warn of the potential damage to the community’s reputation and highlight the painful history associated with the Confederate era. They emphasize the significance of the original names in reflecting segregated policies and the enduring impact on minority members of the community.

Shenandoah County, once a stronghold of the pro-slavery South, carries a complex history intertwined with the Civil War. Today, the county remains predominantly white, with Confederate symbols still visible in some areas, evoking debates over heritage versus hate.

As the community grapples with its past and present, the decision to reinstate Confederate names underscores enduring tensions and the ongoing struggle for reconciliation and inclusivity in Virginia.


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