Two Virginia schools that had been named after Confederate generals and soldiers and which changed their names in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd, are to revert back to their earlier names.
The Shenandoah County School Board changed Stonewall Jackson High School to Mountain View High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School to Honey Run Elementary School in Quicksburg, following a board vote in July 2020 and final approval in January 2021.
But less than two years later, a petition was launched to gauge the strength of feeling on reverting the schools back to their original names.
In 2020, a vote was held to switch the name of Stonewall Jackson High School to Mountain View, but it is likely the old name could be brought back within months
General Stonewall Jackson served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, and became one of the best-known Confederate commanders
Vocal opposition came from community members and alumni with more than 4,000 people signing the petition to switch the names back.
The topic was discussed at length by the six member, all-white school board, during a meeting last week.
Some new board members felt the decision to change names was rushed and did not take into account the opinions of the community.
Board Vice Chair Dennis Barlow said those who were in favor of changing the names were outsiders who are ‘creepy,’ ‘elitist’ and from ‘the dark side,’ he told NBC News.
He claims the school board’s decision to change names in the first place was ‘undemocratic and unfair’ noting that he believed General Stonewall Jackson to be a ‘gallant commander.
‘Most people who vote for elected officials then count on them to do the right thing on their behalf,’ said board member Cynthia Walsh who does not believe the names should be changed back.
‘We do have a representative democracy. We don’t have a direct democracy,’ she added.
In 2020, a vote was held to switch the name of Ashby-Lee Elementary School to Honey Run Elementary school
Turner Ashby Jr. (October 23, 1828 – June 6, 1862) was an American officer. He was a Confederate cavalry commander in the American Civil War, left. Robert E. Lee, right, was an American Confederate general best known as a commander of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.
‘Times have changed, the makeup of our schools has changed and I sincerely believe that revisiting the name change is not what’s best for kids,’ Walsh said.
‘I suggested a compromise: adding a third’ option — I did not agree to the name change but I do not think we should change it back — ‘and that’s where we left it that night, but we didn’t vote on it,’ Walsh said.
‘In my opinion if you’re doing it countywide, you might as well throw the students out because they don’t care,’ said Kyle Gutshall who was elected to the board in this year is a recent high school graduate.
But other board members were adamant throughout the night that the decision has to first be what’s right for the students.
‘No. 1 criteria: what is best for kids. The kids we’e going to teach today and the next 25 years,’ said board member Andrew Keller.
Rather than make a unilateral decision, this time the board has now decided to poll constituents on whether the names should be changed back. The next school board meeting is set for June 9.
Shenandoah County Public Schools have declined to offer an opinion on the issue.
‘It is the responsibility of the Shenandoah County School Board to determine the name of schools, school facilities, and areas of school facilities or grounds in the division. We do not have a comment or statement as a division at this time,’ the district said in a statement.
After George Floyd’s death, statues, monuments, schools and buildings around the country that had been named after Confederate leaders were suddenly the focal point of racial justice. Since that time, several statues and monuments have been taken down and either relocated or placed into storage.
There are more than 6,000 student at school run by the school district with more than 75 percent of them white and about 3 percent, black according to U.S. News & World Report.