NAACP, Virginia, Lawsuit

Virginia NAACP Files Lawsuit Against County School Board For Reissuing Former Confederate School Names

By restoring the names with a 5-1 vote, the suit alleges the board violated the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Education Opportunities Act.

The state’s NAACP chapter is suing the school board of Shenandoah County in Virginia for accepting the approval to restore the names of Confederate military leaders to two public schools.

In a federal lawsuit filed on June 11, the NAACP Virginia State Conference, including five students, accused the board of discrimination against Black students. The suit argues the board created “an unlawful and discriminatory educational environment for Black students.” On May 9, the board made a controversial decision to revert Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School to their former names – Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School. 

Both are named after Confederate military leaders Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and Turner Ashby.

By restoring the names with a 5-1 vote, the suit alleges the board violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Education Opportunities Act. The legislation was mandated to protect the rights to free speech and equal protection of the law and prevent discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in public schools.  

During a press conference to inform residents of the lawsuit coming and to inform people living in Shenandoah County about its decision to sue the school board, the organization’s President, Rev. Cozy Bailey, spoke on the importance of battling decisions made by local school boards that affect children. “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,” Bailey said. 

“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 where racial exclusion was the law of the land.” 

Covington & Burling LLP Lawyers, representing the NAACP, added that the decision prompts kids to agree with things that may not align with their values. “The school board is compelling these students to express a view to which they disagree,” lawyer Ashley Joyner Chavous said. 

“These students must display a message of honoring the values of slavery and racism associated with the Confederacy or else risk exclusion from those activities.”

According to NBC News, the schools were stripped of the names in 2020 after an influx of racial injustice pushback following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — including the call for some communities to remove Confederate symbolism and statues. In 2015, after the brutal mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, an abundance of protests and debates resulted in the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House.

Years later, groups including neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and conservative organizations have upped their game to have such symbolism reinstated. In a letter dated April 3, Coalition for Better Schools petitioned Shenandoah County officials to add the names of Jackson, Lee, and Ashby back. “We believe that revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community’s heritage and respect the wishes of the majority,” the letter read. 

While the chairman of the board, Dennis C. Barlow, has yet to comment on the lawsuit, students heightened the purpose of the suit by expressing their experience of racism within the school system. “Over the course of my life living in Shenandoah County, I’ve experienced racism and dismissal of progressive ideas if I shared them,” one student said. 

“Because of this, for a long time, I stayed silent about my views. This decision has made me realize that I need to speak out for what I believe in and empower people to use their voices for positive change.”

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