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Virginia school board votes to restore Confederate school names; members explain why

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A county school board in Virginia decided this week to restore the original Confederate names of two schools previously deemed offensive.

Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, the Shenandoah County School Board voted to change the names of two schools in their jurisdiction named after Confederate generals

Stonewall Jackson High School, named after Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, became Mountain View High School. Ashby Lee Elementary School, named after Gens. Turner Ashby and Robert E. Lee, became Honey Run Elementary School. 

On Thursday, the school board held a public hearing to consider a proposal restoring the original names of the two schools. Ultimately, the board voted to restore the original names derived from Confederate generals.  

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A protester in support of restoring the Confederate names of schools in Shenandoah County, Virginia wears a shirt honoring Gen. Stonewall Jackson. (WHSV 3)

The motion to restore the schools’ original names was pushed by an organization called The Coalition for Better Schools. The group claimed in a letter to the school board that an overwhelming majority of residents wished to see the names reinstated.

“We understand that the decision to rename these schools was made in response to discussions surrounding Confederate symbols,” the letter stated. “However, we believe that revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community’s heritage and respect the wishes of the majority.”

Residents debated the 2020 decision at the hearing, with local reports suggesting significant turnout in support of both sides. 

Critics of the name changes claim the 2020 school board acted without input from the community, while those in favor of keeping the non-Confederate names said the old names were offensive and unwelcoming to many students.

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READ THE LETTER BELOW. APP USERS: CLICK HERE

Brandi L. Rutz, who represents District 5, told Fox News Digital that she believed the change was “flawed” after being decided in just 6 days without proper notice.

Community participation was also limited due to the then-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The agenda posted on a Friday afternoon at 3:30pm with a holiday on Monday. The Covid emergency allowed for only business to be conducted that pertained to keeping the school operating, then taking the vote via an electronic meeting the following Thursday, violating VAFOIA open meeting laws,” she told Fox News Digital. “SCPS had closed in March of 2020 and didn’t reopen until October of that year.”

“Changing the name on the building was not emergency business. FOIA requests have revealed the then-board was afraid of the backlash. If they would have allowed for voices to be heard, perhaps the need to revisit would not have be needed,” she continued. “Democracy needs to be protected for all Americans. Transparency and a representative government is essential.”

Gloria Markus, who represents District 3, told Fox News Digital that she believes the name change in 2020 was a misguided move divorced from the history of the region. 

“It is worth noting that the original change came as a response to the George Floyd riots in Minnesota and then-Governor Ralph Northam’s request that the names of schools with names associated with the Confederacy be changed,” Markus told Fox News Digital. 

She continued, “There were absolutely no instances of racism or events here locally that sparked the need for a change.  Our area in the Shenandoah Valley is steeped in American history, particularly Civil War history, and race is not at all the motivation of our citizens in keeping the names: it is about their history and their heritage.”

Shenandoah County Schools protest confederates

Protesters opposed to the restoration of Confederate names at Shenandoah schools held signs urging the school board to reject the motion. (WHSV 3)

Kyle Gutshall was the only board member who voted against the restoration, saying he respected both sides but was obligated to follow the wishes of his constituents.

“My decision took into account the wishes of my constituents in Woodstock (District 4). It was essential to gather extensive input from the community on a matter of this importance, as neglecting their perspectives would be a disservice to the citizens I represent,” Gutshall told Fox News Digital. 

He continued, “The passionate discourse from both sides of this debate has been ongoing since 2020, with each providing compelling arguments. After carefully considering a multitude of factors, I believe I made the right decision and hope our school system can move forward.”

Shenandoah is the first county in the nation to have rolled back changes made to institutions bearing Confederate names in the wake of the death of George Floyd in 2020.

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Claim the Names, an organization opposed to the restoration, told Fox News Digital the vote was more about “vengeance” and “hatred” than heritage.

“With the world watching, the Shenandoah County School Board sent a terrible message. We deplore the board’s decision to regress and ‘honor’ civil war figures that consciously betrayed the United States and were proponents of slavery and segregation. This decision seems more about vengeance, control, and hatred than heritage or due process,” Sarah Kohrs, a parent with kids in Shenandoah County schools who also helps lead Claim the Names, told Fox News Digital. She added, “Looking ahead, the many good people of Shenandoah County will have to work even harder to ensure that our complete history, good and bad, remains available to students and the public. Our fight for what’s right is not over.”

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