Virginia School District Votes to Re-Rename Schools After Confederate Officers

A Virginia school district voted on Friday to undo a 2020 decision that removed the names of three Confederate military officers from schools in the district.

The Shenandoah County school board voted to rename Honey Run and Mountain View, two schools under their purview, Ashby-Lee Elementary and Stonewall Jackson High.

The schools were renamed in 2020 following a national outcry and protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The protests called for a re-examination of ingrained racial discrimination in the United States — including the continued veneration of Confederate figures who’d fought for the preservation of slavery in the American Civil War.

In 2020 the Shenandoah County school board affirmed in a 5-1 vote a resolution removing the names of Captain Turner Ashby, Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, and General Robert E. Lee — who were all born and fought in Virginia — from the two schools.

The backlash from residents of the county was swift and intense. A similar motion to reverse the name change was brought to the board in 2022 but failed in a tie vote. The Coalition for Better Schools, a local group opposing the removal of the officers’ names, wrote a letter to the board in April of this year arguing that the vast majority of the district supported the restoration of the schools’ original names.

The “legacy of Stonewall Jackson, while complex, remains an important part of our local history,” the group wrote, adding that “the community values the historical connections to both Turner Ashby and Robert E Lee as prominent Virginians and local heroes.”

Shenandoah County’s local battle over the legacy of Confederate figures is a microcosm of an ongoing national reckoning regarding the place historical figures who fought for the dissolution of the nation and the preservation of a brutal regime of human slavery should have in modern society. In 2020, a statue of Lee was removed from the state legislature after a unanimous vote by a Virginia state commission. Virginia’s then-Governor Ralph Northam said at the time that “The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history.”

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” he added.

In the aftermath of the 2020 protest movement, right-wing politicians and pundits have made the delegitimization of movements promoting diversity, inclusion, and reflection on America’s history of racism a central focus of the conservative movement. Education has become a primary target of this mission, with several states passing laws threatening the accreditation and funding of schools that teach about racial inclusion, disingenuously accusing such curriculums as being inherently anti-white.

In May of last year, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin defended a declaration from one of his administration officials that the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) were “dead.” This came a year after he signed an executive order directing the state Department of Education to identify and eliminate “inherently divisive” and “racist” concepts like Critical Race Theory.

In March, Youngkin demanded that George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth universities submit their curriculums related to race and diversity for review to the state Secretary of Education. His office accused the schools of conducting “a thinly veiled attempt to incorporate the progressive left’s groupthink on Virginia’s students.”

With Virginia’s governor fully invested in the elimination of initiatives aiming to right the social and educational vestiges of racial discrimination, it’s no wonder some Virginians are clamoring to once again bestow honors on the men who fought to create a nation where slavery could remain the law of the land.

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