Staunton School Stirs Up Controversy

By: Carly Stephenson Email
By: Carly Stephenson Email

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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV)-- City workers are working to decide what the next step is for Robert E. Lee High School as far as the building goes, others are concerned about the name.

According to Staunton City School Board chair, Ron Ramsey, the suggestion for a name change came up four or five years ago.

A recent editorial board post in the Staunton News-Leader, suggests looking at a possible change, after a resident wrote in asking for one.

On Facebook we asked your thoughts about the name, and so far the comments section on that has blown up to almost 200 comments.

Jessica Dobbs wrote on Facebook, "My 96-year-old great-grandmother graduated from there, and it was named R.E. Lee High School, and there are thousands of other people who probably also have a lot of pride in graduating from that school under that name who are not prejudiced or for slavery."

Sarah Rea also commented on Facebook, saying, "It is part of our American history."

Local veteran and historian, Andrew Burns, suggests looking at history first before pointing fingers.

"Was slavery wrong, yes, but going back and saying we need to completely forget about these individuals, many of whom had nothing to do with the issue, or in Robert E. Lee's words left it in God's hands, it just doesn't make any sense,' said Burns, 'it's an inflammatory issue, it's something that separates people, and why do we at this point when we have so much going on, so much to separate us, do we want to inflame an issue that really needs not be inflamed."

Burns reacted to reading a request in the Staunton News-Leader to change the name of R.E. Lee High School by sharing his thoughts about the past.

"Washington was a slave holder, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, are we going to start ripping their names off of buildings because they held slaves? That doesn't make any sense to me," said Burns.

This is also an issue school board chair of Staunton city schools, Ronald Ramsey, says has come up before.

"Going to be someone in a uniform from the Civil War era, and that was what they wanted, they were very clear on it, even when questions were asked, do you think that's going to bother anyone?," said Ramsey.

Currently, these words aren't something at the top of the city's to-do list.

"Sort of more important I think for us at this stage to be worried about not so much the name on the building but the building," said Ramsey.

One person WHSV spoke with ,who was afraid to go on camera because of what his neighbors might think, says that this name is divisive, but it's also a part of history.

"Was slavery wrong, yes, but going back and saying we need to completely forget about these individuals, many of whom had nothing to do with the issue, or in Robert E. Lee's words , 'left it in God's hands', it just doesn't make any sense," said Burns.

Regardless of views, respect is key.

"Get it going along in the community, not in a confrontational manner, but just ask the question, 'what if?' and 'what do you think of?'," said Ramsey.


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