NAACP & Students Sue Shenandoah County for Naming Public Schools After Defenders of Slavery

Date:

A lawsuit filed by students and the Virginia NAACP against the Shenandoah County School Board charges that Shenandoah has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act by reinstating the names of soldiers who fought to keep Black people as slaves in the U.S.

The NAACP in Virginia and five students filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, June 12th against the Shenandoah County school board in response to their vote last month to restore the names of two schools that previously honored Confederate leaders – nearly four years after a decision was made to change them.

School board members in Virginia’s Shenandoah County voted early Friday, May 10th to restore the names of two schools that previously honored Confederate leaders – nearly four years after a decision was made to change them. The 5-1 vote the school board decided to reinstate the names Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School. The names honor Confederate Gens. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby.

The lawsuit asks the court to require the school board to remove the confederate names and mascots and to declare that the board violated the Constitution by reinstating the school names. The federal lawsuit alleges the Shenandoah County School Board is creating an unlawful and discriminatory educational environment for Black students. A copy of the complaint can be found here.

NAACP Virginia State Conference President the Rev. Cozy Bailey [Ralph Winfrey]

”By celebrating the memory of these traitors every time a child walked through the school doors, by embracing the cold wind of intolerance and division and insensitivity, the Shenandoah County School Board has resurrected the ghosts of the Jim Crow era,” NAACP Virginia State Conference President the Rev. Cozy Bailey said at a news conference.

“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,” said Rev. Cozy Bailey continued, “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.”

The lawsuit asks the court to require the school board to remove the confederate names and mascots and to declare that the board violated the Constitution by reinstating the school names. The schools have been called Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School since July 2021, according to board documents.

Making Black students attend schools honoring Confederate leaders violates their constitutional rights, according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs bring this case to redress the creation and maintenance of a discriminatory environment that erodes their right to receive an education and to be free from compelled speech they consider vile,” the suit says. “Requiring Plaintiffs to attend schools named in honor of prominent members of the Confederacy and compelling Plaintiffs to identify as members of the Stonewall Jackson “Generals” violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.”

Massanutten Regional Governor’s School Senior Briana Brown, a plaintiff in the law suit[photo credit Ralph Winfrey]

Plaintiff Briana Brown, a rising 12th-grader at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, based at Mountain View High School, said she was directly impacted by the board’s decision.

“When I found out about the school board’s decision, I felt unwelcome in a place that I go every day to, which should never be the case,” Brown said at the news conference. “… This decision has made me realize that I need to speak out about what I believe in and empower people to use their voices for positive change. I refuse to be afraid any longer.”

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

“A Black high schooler who wants to play on the soccer team must wear the Stonewall Jackson ‘Generals’ uniform. The student must honor a Confederate leader who fought to keep Black people in chains as slaves,” said an NCAA attorney, Marja Plater, senior counsel with Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Exposing children to this persistent racism and hate harms their self-worth and long-term health.”

The Shenandoah County School Board held its first meeting since the Virginia NAACP filed a federal lawsuit against the board. At the end of the open meeting that board member Gloria Carlineo spoke out about the lawsuit, WHSV.com reported.

“I’m not going to be talking about any of the litigation, obviously,” said Carlineo, “Except to comment, saying that we are fully committed to fighting this lawsuit to the extent of the law and we are confident that, in the end, the whole truth will come out.”

Though she declined to answer more questions about the lawsuit, board member Brandi Rutz said the board is looking into a forensic investigation into the funds used for the initial name change in 2020. Rutz alleged the 2020 school board used money from the special education department to fund the change.

Critics of the schools’ name changes argued the renaming was hasty and undemocratic. Attempts to restore the schools’ Confederate names have persisted since. 

In April, the conservative local group Coalition for Better Schools brought the issue to the community once again. In a letter, the organization argued that the legacies of the two generals are complex but important to the community. 

Nearly a century after the Confederate defeat, in 1954, the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision declared that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place. Segregationist Virginians resisted by using every legal trick imaginable to defy the desegregation mandate, including closing public schools in Warren County, Norfolk, Charlottesville and Prince Edward County because they did not want White children to learn alongside Black children. In 1959, the first year of Prince Edward’s five year public school shut down, Shenandoah County School Board named their local high school Stonewall Jackson High. Turner-Lee became the name of the elementary school in the 1970s as that was the name of a magisterial district that has since been renamed.

Seven decades have passed since the first Brown decision and all but one member of the Shenandoah County School Board reaffirmed their commitment to White supremacy with their vote to name public schools after military leaders of the Confederate States of America. When students walk through the halls of renamed Stonewall Jackson High School and Turner-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.

The NAACP has protested Lost Cause memorials since the turn of the twentieth century. W. E. B. DuBois, co-founder of the NAACP and editor of The Crisis in 1931 wrote “The most terrible thing about War, I am convinced, is its monuments…In the South, particularly, human ingenuity has been put to it to explain on its war monument, the Confederacy. Of course, the plain truth of the matter would be an inscription something like this: ‘Sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.’” Last night, the Shenandoah County School Board voted to re-create Confederate monuments of public schools. This community deserves better.

Shenandoah Rally [Ralph Winfrey]

The Virginia NAACP called on the Shenandoah County School Board to reverse their recent decision to name public schools after men who waged war against the USA. They vowed to use every resource at their disposal to make real the promise of the District’s mission that claims “All members of the learning community are valued and respected.” Students, parents and community members who do not share the majority of the Shenandoah County School Board’s pro-Confederate ideals are not valued and respected when forced to learn in, and pay taxes to support, Confederate memorials. This community deserves better.

“By voting for Confederate names, the school board is subjecting children to discrimination, said Marja Plater, Senior Counsel, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “A Black high schooler who wants to play on the soccer team must wear the Stonewall Jackson ‘Generals’ uniform. The student must honor a Confederate leader who fought to keep Black people in chains as slaves. Exposing children to this persistent racism and hate harms their self-worth and long-term health.”

The Virginia NAACP is bringing this lawsuit on behalf of its members and families, including students in the Shenandoah County school system. The families whose children attend Shenandoah County Public Schools seek the removal of Confederate names and mascots and to prevent any future naming involving Confederate leaders. 

“Public education should benefit everyone, irrespective of race or class.  Every student is entitled to an education free from discrimination,” said Ashley Joyner Chavous, Of Counsel, Covington & Burling. “The school board’s decision to reinstate the Confederate school names and imagery creates a school environment that denies students of color an equal opportunity to education. These actions are a slap in the face of the many Shenandoah County families and community members who have been working for decades to build a stronger and more cohesive community.”

“The Virginia NAACP will not allow localities to advance white supremacy. The Virginia NAACP will continue to fight against policies and legislation that serve to send the Commonwealth of Virginia backward,” The Virginia NAACP state in closing of their statement.

ABOUT THE VIRGINIA NAACP: Chartered in 1935, the NAACP Virginia State Conference (Virginia NAACP) is the oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization in the Commonwealth. The Virginia NAACP advocates, agitates, and litigates for civil rights due to Black Virginians. Representing over 100 NAACP adult branches, youth councils, and college chapters, together, we fight to build the social and political power required to abolish racial discrimination in localities throughout Virginia. To learn more about the work of the Virginia NAACP and the issues we advocate for, visit naacpva.org.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic, and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting, and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression.

ABOUT COVINGTON & BURLING LLP: Covington has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service. The firm is frequently recognized for pro bono service, including 12 times being ranked the number one pro bono practice in the U.S. by The American Lawyer. Much of the firm’s pro bono work is anchored in meeting local needs, serving economically disadvantaged individuals and families in our surrounding communities, in addition to its long history of serving vulnerable clients and important causes throughout the U.S. and the world.

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

Share post:

BW ADS

spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img

Popular

More like this
Related

Mamaroneck Mayor Sharon Torres Exposes Alleged Corruption in WESTHAB Housing Project, Shaking Westchester County Village

https://youtu.be/8NALj-n11VU?si=SQbehosKQLlza1pA At a recent village board meeting, Mamaroneck Mayor Sharon...

UN Court Condemns Israel: Occupation Ruled Illegal, Demands Immediate Withdrawal

In a landmark decision, the International Court of Justice...
Verified by MonsterInsights