Shenandoah County School Board discusses the restoration of confederate school names

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 7:52 PM EDT
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SHENANDOAH COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - At its meeting on Thursday night, the Shenandoah County School Board heard from many in the community on whether or not to restore the names of two schools named after confederate generals.

Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School were renamed Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School in the wake of nationwide unrest following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Over $300,000 was designated to change the names.

Now, nearly two years later with a new superintendent and three new school board members, the board is discussing a possible restoration of the school’s original names.

Residents of Shenandoah County, alumni, and current students shared their thoughts with the school board.

“What message does it send? It says our community views it’s more important to move backward than forward... That our past means more than our future,” a reverend in Shenandoah County said.

Those in favor of restoring the names noted a lack of community input and rushed decisions by the previous board.

“Enough is enough. This board has an ethical and moral responsibility to right this wrong,” one resident said. “Do your job and represent your constituents. There is no recourse but the restoration of the names.”

After hearing from over 50 residents, the school board had a chance to discuss the restoration of the names Stonewall Jackson and Ashby-Lee.

They decided to survey the residents of District 1 and District 2 on whether or not they’d like the names to stay as they are now or be restored. Information on how to participate in the survey will be coming soon.

“The public didn’t get a whole lot of input and that’s the thing that I feel like is the most frustrating for the folks on the southern end of the county is they didn’t feel like they had any kind of input,” said Josh Stephens, a Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors member and the father or a Honey Run Elementary student.

Many in the county were upset by how the original renaming was handled.

“It was put on the agenda on July 3 and it was voted on July 9. The present chair of the school board was on the school board then and he was left out of it. They worked around him and they voted 5 to 1, his was the only vote against changing the name,” said Mike Scheibe, a Shenandoah County Parent.

Brandy Rutz is one of three current school board members who was elected after the renaming. She said there was a major problem with how it was handled.

“I think that had it been done differently, even if the name Stonewall Jackson would have lost out, the community would have been okay with it. But they feel it was forced upon them with no input at all,” said Rutz.

James Thomas is an alum of Stonewall Jackson High School who graduated in 1968. He said he believes that the majority of the county was not happy with the name changes.

“Everybody that I know locally in our community wanted the name to stay the same. So now they created all this division and instead of spending money on the education of children they wasted it on changing the name of schools,” said Thomas.

Thomas was not happy with the renaming.

“A few loud people can be woke and because they were doing it in other places, ‘Well, we’ll do it too’ and it was hurtful and it was wrong and it should be made right,” he said.

Shenandoah County District One Supervisor Josh Stephens said he hopes the board will use a survey of parents similar to the one it used when deciding to make masks optional in schools if it does consider changing the names back.

“If the board is going to consider the restoration of the names, I would like to see them get more public input this time. Turn it into a process where we can get good data,” he said.

Mike Scheibe is a civil war reenactor in addition to being a parent. He said while he supports the restoration of the names, the most important thing is that more public input is gathered this time around.

“Let us all speak about it. Let the whole community have its say and then we can put it to rest,” he said. “This issue should be dealt with now, whichever way it goes so we can get it past us and move on and focus on improving the schools because our school ratings are poor.”

Scheibe said he doesn’t believe the renaming of the schools did anything to combat racism.

“The idea that this is done to lessen racism, to me that’s a strawman argument. If you wanted to lessen racism have community forums, bring everyone in the community together including minorities and have them all have discussions,” he said.

While many in the county support restoring the Confederate names the issue is still divisive in the community.

“There are folks at this point that say ‘Hey, we understand that this was done wrong, we acknowledge that but let’s just move on.’ There are some that are saying well you know the commerce and the tourism in Shenandoah County will come to a complete halt if you change this back,” said Brandy Rutz.

“The shame of it is the process in which it was done caused a great deal of division in the county. So there’s a portion that would like to move on and hope those wounds heal and there are others that would really like to have their say,” she added.

James Thomas said that he believes the history of the region should not be lost.

“We’re in the middle of a very historic valley where the civil war was fought and it’s part of our history and we were proud to be named after a part of that history and a very esteemed person in our state’s past and a very honorable person,” he said.

Thomas cited Stonewall Jackson’s Sunday School for slaves in which he taught them to read despite it being against Confederate law.

Thomas and others believe if the board did choose to restore the names of the schools the renaming expenses could be covered entirely by private donations.

“I know lots of people that would donate to put that name back,” he said.

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