Photo Credit: nvdaily.com

After the Shenandoah County School Board voted to reinstate the names of Confederate leaders for two schools last month, the NAACP Virginia State Conference (Virginia NAACP) and five students have filed a federal lawsuit.

The schools in question, located in Quicksburg, VA, are Honey Run Elementary School, which has reverted to Ashby-Lee Elementary School, and Mountain View High School, now renamed Stonewall Jackson High School.

These schools were initially renamed in 2020 in response to the racial reckoning following George Floyd’s murder. However, four years later, the conservative group Coalition for Better Schools petitioned the school board to restore the old names, citing a need to honor the community’s heritage and respect the majority’s wishes, according to NBC News. This renaming measure was passed on May 10.

Historical records from Shenandoah County reveal a pattern of opposing integration, as noted by the Virginia NAACP. Stonewall Jackson High School was established as a white-only school five years after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, directly opposing the court’s ruling.

The Virginia NAACP stated, “The Confederate names signaled to Black students and their families that they were not welcome at the schools, and it took several more years for the first Black students to enroll in high school during the 1963-64 school year.”

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims that the school board has created “an unlawful and discriminatory educational environment for Black students.” It also highlights the “shameful legacy of segregation and discrimination in Shenandoah County and how restoring the Confederate names embraces that legacy in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Education Opportunities Act.”

The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Covington & Burling LLP, are seeking to retain the schools’ new names and prevent future naming and mascots after Confederate leaders.

“This backward move has received a negative reaction all over the world,” said Rev. Cozy Bailey, Virginia NAACP president, in a statement. “The world is watching to see if this variety of the seeds of hate and disenfranchisement will take root and return Shenandoah County and the Commonwealth of Virginia to the days when racial exclusion was the law of the land.”

Bailey continued, “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.”

Marja Plater, Senior Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, stated, “By voting for Confederate names, the school board is subjecting children to discrimination. A Black high schooler who wants to play on the soccer team must wear the Stonewall Jackson ‘Generals’ uniform, honoring a Confederate leader who fought to keep Black people enslaved. This persistent exposure to racism and hate harms their self-worth and long-term health.”

Ashley Joyner Chavous, Of Counsel for Covington & Burling, added, “Public education should benefit everyone, irrespective of race or class. Every student is entitled to an education free from discrimination.”

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