Controversy over Hanover’s confederate named schools reignited

Hanover County

NAACP branch files appeal after lawsuit challenging the names was dismissed

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A group of about 80 parents, students, and other community advocates are again asking Hanover school officials to change the names of Stonewall Jackson Middle and Lee Davis High schools.

It’s not a new controversy, a lawsuit filed by the NAACP against Hanover County and its school district over the two school names was dismissed in May.

The suit, filed in August of 2019 by the Hanover NAACP chapter, argued that the schools and their mascots violated the Constitutional rights of African American students by forcing them to “champion a legacy of segregation and oppression in order to participate in school activities.” A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against the school board in May.

The suit alleged the names infringed on the First Amendment right to be free of “compelled speech” and the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Hanover’s NAACP president Robert Barnette told 8News the branch has filed an appeal.

“This is the right time to get rid of these symbols of racism. People look at these symbols in that context and Hanover County doesn’t deserve that. They deserve better. These symbols must go,” he said.

Not everyone feels that way. Peggy Smith is one of them.

“I hope they don’t because I don’t think that people will let them,” Smith said. “It’s history! It’s actually history!”

Smith has lived in Hanover for more than 50 years. “All my kids graduated there, from Lee-Davis. They all went to Stonewall. I got grandkids coming along and I want them to go to Lee-Davis and go to Stonewall,” she told 8News.

A Hanover schools spokesman provided a statement Wednesday on behalf of the county’s school board, the group with the authority to approve renaming the schools.

While the lawsuit regarding the schools’ names has been dismissed, the Hanover NAACP has indicated that they are considering how to continue the litigation, including a possible appeal of the decision. In light of that, it would not be appropriate for me to discuss this issue at this time. Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the School Board respects, values, and cares about all students who attend Hanover County Public Schools and will continue to focus on ensuring that they have the best educational opportunities possible”

John Axselle III, Hanover County School Board Chairman

Mechanicsville District School Board Member Sterling Daniel told 8News that the board plans to hold a special meeting ahead of their regularly scheduled meeting in July to discuss the names of the schools. Both schools are in Daniel’s district.

The death of George Floyd is causing protests around the country and activists calling for changes. Parents like Fonjenik Turner say the school’s names honoring confederate leaders are racist and need to be changed. On Wednesday, Turner told 8News when moving to the area, her family bought a house in a zone that would allow her to avoid sending her kids to either of the schools.

“Our children’s lives and our children’s emotional well being is not considered by the school system,” Turner said. “I understand people wanting to claim their heritage and i think everything has a place and those places are called museums.”

She’s calling for the name change after moving to the area a few years ago.

“When I learned that there were schools here with Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson, I told the realtor don’t show me homes in those areas,” she explained.

Sophie Lynn, a rising junior at Lee-Davis, told 8News she created a petition to change Lee-Davis High School after Governor Northam announced he will remove the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument avenue. As of Wednesday, it has more than 15,000 signatures.

“I think that these school names are harmful to black students and teachers who are forced to call themselves confederates,” she told 8News.

Barnette told 8News he’s optimistic this time.

“We’re hopeful that this has shined a light on how far we must go,” he said.

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