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Virginia NAACP files suit against school board for restoring names of Confederate leaders

The Virginia chapter of the NAACP and five students plan to file a federal lawsuit against the Shenandoah County school board on Tuesday after the six-member body approved a proposal to return the names of Confederate military leaders to two public schools.

The lawsuit, first reported by NBC News, alleges that the school board created “an unlawful and discriminatory educational environment for Black students,” according to a news release announcing the legal action.

The lawsuit alleges that, by restoring the Confederate names, the government violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

The Shenandoah County School Board approved the controversial measure on May 10 by a 5-1 margin, essentially reversing a 2020 decision that changed the names of schools associated with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby. three men who led the pro-slavery Southern states during the Civil War.

Mountain View High School changed to the name Stonewall Jackson High School. Honey Run Elementary School has reverted to the name Ashby-Lee Elementary School.

“I believe that the Shenandoah County School Board has reaffirmed their commitment to white supremacy and the celebration of race-based rebellion against the United States of America with their vote to name public schools after military leaders of the Confederate States of America America, America,” Rev. Cozy Bailey, president of the Virginia NAACP, said in a statement.

“When students walk the halls of the renamed Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School, they will do so with inescapable memories of the Confederate legacy that enslaved and discriminated against people of African descent. This community deserves better,” Bailey added.

Dennis C. Barlow, the school board chairman, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Four years ago, an earlier incarnation of the school board removed Confederate names after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, sparking a national racial reckoning. The call for racial justice and equality inspired some communities to remove Confederate symbolism and statues of Confederate generals.

In recent months, however, the conservative group Coalition for Better Schools has petitioned Shenandoah County officials to reinstate the names Jackson, Lee and Ashby. “We believe that reviewing this decision is essential to honor the heritage of our community and respect the wishes of the majority,” the coalition wrote in an April 3 letter.

The incumbent members of the school board seemed to be guided by that argument. The five members who voted in favor of the proposal also claimed that the 2020 decision was made too quickly, without appropriate community input.

Over the past decade, Confederate iconography has fueled fierce sociopolitical divisions across the country.

The anti-black mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 sparked 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 Capitol grounds.

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

In the wake of Floyd’s murder and the mass protests against racism, the legacy of the Confederacy once again became the center of national division. At least 160 public Confederate symbols were removed or moved from public places in 2020, according to a count by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The vote in Shenandoah County last month came as conservative groups in the U.S. increasingly push back against efforts to account for race in education in America, including efforts to curb discussion of racial identity in the classroom, library books containing racial themes and banning books with racist themes. diversity. plan.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm Covington & Burling LLP are representing the Virginia chapter of the NAACP and the students’ families.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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