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Staunton School Board votes to rename R. E. Lee High, launches public survey

(WHSV)
Published: Oct. 8, 2018 at 6:55 PM EDT
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After months of debate, the Staunton School Board decided in a 4-2 vote Monday evening to strip Robert E. Lee High School of the name it was given in 1914.

An

was launched the next day for city residents to suggest new names for the school. Board members plan to accept comments through October 31. They'll review name suggestions in November and may vote on a new name as soon as November 12.

The vote to remove the Confederate general's name was made during a meeting in the gym at Gypsy Hill Park after school board members decided to move it from their normal location due to expected crowd size.

The debate drew strong reaction from people in the Queen City. Those who supported the change argued the name Robert E. Lee was offensive and isolating to minorities due to its connection to the Confederacy and Lee's legacy as a slave owner remembered for beating slaves himself. Those who advocated for keeping the name argued that Lee's character extended beyond that and that his impact on the Shenandoah Valley is worth memorializing with a school.

There had been an ongoing push over recent years to return the name of the school to Staunton High School, which it bore until the school board voted to rename it in honor of Lee in 1914. Efforts to change the name persisted over about a decade, but the movement

following the deadly violence of the "Unite the Right" rally centered around a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last year.

"Well, I'm actually feeling quite ecstatic right now. I'm leaving the room with a lift in my step let me tell you that," said Dr. Edward Scott, who was for the change.

But others fought for keeping the name, arguing it preserved history.

"I don't think that the school board reflects the majority of the constituents that they're serving," said Bill Meade, who was against the change.

A study released by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities last month

three possible compromises: referring to the school as just "Lee High School," changing back to its original name "Staunton High School," or adopting the name of the African-American school before Lee was integrated, "Booker T. Washington High School."

The authors of the study recommended increased empathy from both sides, transparency going forward and focusing on reducing achievement and opportunity gaps. They made a clear emphasis that they were acting without bias.

However, the only name recommended in that study included in the school board's listed suggestions is Staunton High School. The board does not have to take any suggested name, however, and students, faculty, and staff will work to determine a new mascot and school colors. The school board released

the day after the vote laying out the process.

You can read the motion made by the board to rename the school in its entirety

.

Robert Boyle and William Lobb were the dissenting "no" votes. Kenneth Venable, Christine Poulson, Natasha McCurdy, and Amy Wratchford all voted "yes."

All four board members who voted "yes"

.

The name change comes amid a nationwide debate over the place for Confederate symbolism in modern society, with some saying it perpetuates racism and others saying it represents Southern heritage.

It also follows other schools moving to rebrand themselves, such as Richmond Public Schools

J.E.B. Stuart Elementary to Barack Obama Elementary School. The school boards in Falls Church and Petersburg also are renaming several Confederate-named schools.

The school board has

, saying it's safe to estimate $200,000 would be needed to replace athletic gear with the school's branding, but that that amount represents less than one percent of the school division's operating budget of $31.8 million. Many of

are expected to be absorbed as part of the city's already-existing plans for renovations to the school in 2019.

Staunton School Board meeting on R.E. Lee High School

Matthew Fultz-WHSV is LIVE at the Staunton School Board's ongoing meeting where they're expected to discuss a possible name change for Robert E. Lee High School.

Posted by WHSV - TV 3 on Monday, October 8, 2018