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Virginia school board to vote on restoring names of Confederate leaders to schools

The Shenandoah County, Virginia, school board plans to vote Thursday on a proposal to restore the names of Confederate military leaders to two public schools, according to a meeting agenda posted online.

The measure would reverse the board’s 2020 decision to change the names of schools tied to Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby, three men who led pro-slavery Southern states during the Civil War.

Stonewall Jackson High School became Mountain View High School. Ashby-Lee Elementary School became Honey Run Elementary School.

The board removed their names after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, fueling a national racial reckoning. Calls for racial justice and equity have prompted some communities to remove Confederate symbolism and statues of Confederate generals.

But in Shenandoah County, the conservative group Coalition for Better Schools asked school officials to reinstate the names of Jackson, Lee and Ashby. “We believe it is essential to reverse this decision to honor the heritage of our community and respect the wishes of the majority,” the coalition wrote in a letter to the board of directors on April 3, according to a copy posted online.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal Thursday evening, according to a spokeswoman for the school district, which has an enrollment of more than 5,600 students. The board considered a similar motion in 2022, but it failed due to a tie vote.

Over the past decade, Confederate iconography has caused intense sociopolitical divisions across the country.

The statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson is removed from a Charlottesville park in 2021.Ryan M. Kelly / AFP via Getty Images file

The anti-Black mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 sparked heated debates over public displays of the Confederate flag and commemorations of the Confederacy. South Carolina officials voted that year to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.

Two years later, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the deadly “Unite the Right” rally. They stormed the University City in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Lee from the city’s Market Street Park, formerly known as Lee Park.

Mountain View High School in Shenandoah County, Virginia.Google Earth

In the wake of Floyd’s killing and massive anti-racism protests, the legacy of the Confederacy has once again become a focal point of national debate. At least 160 public Confederate symbols were taken down or moved from public places in 2020, according to a tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“These racist symbols only serve to support revisionist history and the belief that white supremacy remains morally acceptable,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said in a statement at the time. “That’s why we believe all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces.”

The vote in Shenandoah County comes as conservative groups across the United States increasingly oppose efforts to address race in America in educational settings, including efforts to limit discussions in class on racial identity, banning library books with racial themes, and derailing diversity plans.

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