NAACP is suing Virginia school board over decision to return Confederate names to schools


The Virginia NAACP and five students have filed a federal lawsuit against the Shenandoah County school board in response to their vote last month to reinstate the names of two schools that previously honored Confederate leaders — nearly four years after the 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 winds of intolerance, division and insensitivity, the Shenandoah County School Board has resurrected the ghosts of the Jim Crow era ,” NAACP Virginia State Conference President Rev. Cozy Bailey said at a news conference.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the school board to remove the Confederacy’s names and mascots and to declare that the board violated the Constitution by reinstating the school names.

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

The lawsuit says allowing black students to attend schools honoring Confederate leaders violates their constitutional rights.

“Plaintiffs bring this action to redress the creation and perpetuation of a discriminatory environment that erodes their right to an education and to be free from coerced expression that they consider despicable,” the lawsuit said. “Requiring Plaintiffs to attend schools named in honor of prominent members of the Confederacy and forcing Plaintiffs to identify themselves 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 Code. Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.”

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

“When I heard about the school board’s decision, I felt unwelcome in a place I go every day, 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 the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

“A black high school student who wants to play on the football team must wear the Stonewall Jackson ‘Generals’ uniform. The student should honor a Confederate leader who fought to keep black people in chains as slaves,” said NCAA attorney Marja Plater, senior counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Exposing children to this ongoing racism and hatred damages their long-term self-esteem and 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 the Confederate Gens. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby.

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

At the time of the vote, several board members criticized the way the names were previously changed. Board member Thomas Streett, who voted in favor of reinstating the names, described it as a “kneejerk reaction” that did not involve the community, and board member Gloria E. Carlineo told CNN their decision had nothing to do with race. It was based on doing things the right way, she said.

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

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