Virginia School Board Shocks with Confederate Name Restoration Decision, Bucking Broader Trend

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In recent years, there has been a concerted attempt to break ties with America’s past. Iconoclasts have smashed hundreds of statues. They’ve renamed species, melted down busts, removed church windows, dug up graves, and changed the names of places.

Early Friday, a Virginia school board bucked a trend.

In 2021, two schools in Shenandoah County Public Schools were renamed following a vote by the school board the year before. Stonewall Jackson High School was renamed Mountain View High School after Confederate infantry general Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall”. Ashby-Lee Elementary School, named for Robert E. Lee (commander of the Army of Northern Virginia) and rebel cavalry leader Turner Ashby became Honey Run Elementary School. Confederate associations with slavery were reported to be a major factor in making the changes.

Axios reported on the Coalition for Better Schools (a conservative local group) continuing to push for the name change after a failed attempt in 2022. In a letter sent to members of SCPS’ board on April 3, the group stated that they understood that “the decision to rename the schools was made as a response to discussions around Confederate symbols”, but that it is important to revisit this decision to respect our community heritage and honor the wishes of the majority.

The SCPS School Board voted on Thursday, after a meeting that lasted for six hours, and included extensive public comments, to reverse the 2020 decision.

The opponents of the restorations argued that the changes would gloss over racism in history.

One resident said, “If you vote in 2024 to restore the Stonewall Jackson name, you are resurrecting a 1959 act that was forever rooted in Jim Crow segregation and mass resistance.”

WLOX-TV reported that Kyle Gutshall, who was the only member to vote against the motion, said there wasn’t a clear reason for the restoration.

Guthall said, “We have talked about how to do things the right way and the wrong way.” It’s all about perspective and how we view things.

Some supporters said that even a flawed history is worth remembering.

Dennis Barlow is the chair of the Shenandoah Valley School Board said, “People in Shenandoah say that only Confederates did bad things to blacks or did bad things to them,” “You’re not realistic because you haven’t studied your history enough, war is hell.”

The motion, which was ultimately approved early on Friday morning, requires that funds be raised exclusively from private donations “and that no funds will come from the government or school system”.

Robert Watson, assistant professor of history from Hampton University, told USA Today that, ahead of the vote, the district could be the first one in the country to reverse its course on Confederate-named schools.

Watson said that if the Shenandoah Valley is successful, then it will probably be successful in other areas.