NAACP Pursues Lawsuit Against Virginia School Board for Restoring School Names of Confederate Leaders

Google Maps/Screenshot via NPR Photo Source: Google Maps/Screenshot via NPR

The Virginia chapter of the NAACP, alongside five students, have filed a federal lawsuit against the Shenandoah County School Board. The legal action arises from the board's controversial decision to restore the names of two schools previously named after Confederate military leaders. This decision, nearly four years after the initial renaming, has sparked significant debate and legal scrutiny.

In May 2020, amid nationwide protests for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd, the Shenandoah County School Board voted to rename two schools that had honored Confederate generals Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Turner Ashby. The schools were renamed Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School, respectively. This move was part of a broader trend across the United States to remove symbols of the Confederacy from public spaces.

However, in a recent vote on May 9, 2023, the current school board reversed this decision, reinstating the names Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School. The vote passed with a 5-1 majority, reigniting controversy and prompting legal action from the NAACP and affected students.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, argues that the school board's decision infringes upon several federal laws and constitutional rights. The plaintiffs assert that reinstating the Confederate names creates a “discriminatory educational environment for Black students” and “violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.”

The complaint states that the board's decision forces Black students to attend schools that celebrate individuals who fought to maintain slavery, thereby subjecting them to "compelled speech" that is demeaning and harmful. This, the plaintiffs argue, erodes the students' right to an equitable education free from racial discrimination.

Rev. Cozy Bailey, President of the Virginia NAACP, criticized the board's decision, stating that it reflects a "commitment to White supremacy" and revives "the ghosts of the Jim Crow era." He also emphasized the psychological and social harm inflicted on Black students who must attend these schools.

The school board's decision has polarized the Shenandoah County community. Proponents, including members of the conservative group Coalition for Better Schools, argue that the original name change in 2020 was a "knee-jerk reaction" made without sufficient community input and now petition to “honor” the “community's heritage and respect wishes of the majority.” Opponents, however, contend that the decision disregards the harmful legacy of the Confederacy and severely minimizes the efforts to promote racial equality and justice.

Nina Richards
Nina Richards
Nina earned her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Brandman University, laying the foundation for her interest in and understanding of human behavior. She works full-time at Law Commentary and is dedicated to merging her passion for pop culture with legal insights. Combining her analytical skills and interest in staying updated on trends, she strives to deliver pop culture legal news, bridging the gap between law and contemporary society.
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