NAACP sues Virginia school board over decision to restore Confederate names to schools

The NAACP in Virginia and five students filed a federal lawsuit against the Shenandoah County school board in response to their vote last month to restore the names of two schools that previously honored Confederate leaders – nearly four years after a decision was made to change them.

”By celebrating the memory of these traitors every time a child walked through the school doors, by embracing the cold wind of intolerance and division and insensitivity, the Shenandoah County School Board has resurrected the ghosts of the Jim Crow era,” NAACP Virginia State Conference President the Rev. Cozy Bailey said at a news conference.

The lawsuit asks the court to require the school board to remove the confederate names and mascots and to declare that the board violated the Constitution by reinstating the school names.

CNN has reached out to all six members of the school board and the superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools for comment.

Making Black students attend schools honoring Confederate leaders violates their constitutional rights, according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs bring this case to redress the creation and maintenance of a discriminatory environment that erodes their right to receive an education and to be free from compelled speech they consider vile,” the suit says. “Requiring Plaintiffs to attend schools named in honor of prominent members of the Confederacy and compelling Plaintiffs to identify as members of the Stonewall Jackson “Generals” violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.”

Plaintiff Briana Brown, a rising 12th-grader at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, based at Mountain View High School, said she was directly impacted by the board’s decision.

“When I found out about the school board’s decision, I felt unwelcome in a place that I go every day to, which should never be the case,” Brown said at the news conference. “… This decision has made me realize that I need to speak out about what I believe in and empower people to use their voices for positive change. I refuse to be afraid any longer.”

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

“A Black high schooler who wants to play on the soccer team must wear the Stonewall Jackson ‘Generals’ uniform. The student must honor a Confederate leader who fought to keep Black people in chains as slaves,” said an NCAA attorney, Marja Plater, senior counsel with Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Exposing children to this persistent racism and hate harms their self-worth and long-term health.”

In a 5-1 vote on May 9, the school board decided to reinstate the names Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School. The names honor Confederate Gens. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby.

The schools have been called Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School since July 2021, according to board documents.

At the time of the vote, several board members criticized how the names were previously changed. Board member Thomas Streett, who voted in favor of restoring the names, described it as a “knee-jerk reaction” that had a lack of involvement from the community, and board member Gloria E. Carlineo told CNN that their decision had nothing to do with race. It was based on doing things the right way, she said.

“I spoke about not changing history,” said Bailey. “Anyone who says that we can eliminate a discussion about race when we talk about social justice in this country, they’re the ones who are attempting to change history.”

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