Virginia School Board Votes to Restore Confederate Names in Rare Reversal

Schools Confederate Names

A Virginia school board voted Friday to restore the names of Confederate military leaders to a high school and an elementary school, four years after the names had been removed, a reversal that some experts believe may be the first of its kind.

Shenandoah County’s school board voted 5-1 to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Friday’s vote reverses a decision by the school board in 2020, a time when school systems across Virginia and the South were removing Confederate names from schools and other public locations in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rivka Maizlish, senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which maintains a database of more than 2,000 Confederate memorials nationwide, said she is not aware of any other school that has decided to restore a Confederate name that was removed.

Overall, she said, the trend toward removal of Confederate names and memorials has continued, even if it has slowed somewhat since 2020. She noted that last year the Army renamed nine installations that were named for Confederate leaders, and the Army also removed a Confederate memorial from Arlington National Cemetery.

In Virginia, local governments had been banned from removing Confederate memorials and statues until the law was changed in 2020. The law preserving Confederate memorials did not apply to school names, though.

On Friday, school board members who voted to restore the Confederate names said the previous board ignored popular sentiment and due process when the names were stripped.

Elections in 2023 significantly changed the school board’s makeup.

Board member Gloria Carlineo said during a six-hour meeting that began Thursday night that opponents of the Confederate names should “stop bringing racism and prejudice into everything” because it “detracts from true cases of racism.”

The lone board member to vote against restoring the Confederate names, Kyle Gutshall, said he respects both sides of the debate but believed that a majority of residents in his district wanted to leave the Mountain View and Honey Run names in place.

“I don’t judge anybody or look down on anybody for the decision they’re making,” he said. “It’s a complex issue.”

During several hours of public comment, county residents spoke up on both sides of the issue.

Beth Ogle, a longtime county resident with children in the school system, said restoring the Confederate names is “a statement to the world that you do not value the dignity and respect of your minority students, faculty and staff.”

Kenny Wakeman, a lifelong county resident, said the Stonewall Jackson name “stood proudly for 60 years until 2020,” when he said the “actions of a rogue police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota” prompted a reaction to change the name, a reference to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota that propelled a nationwide series of protests and debate over racial justice.

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was a Confederate general from Virginia who gained fame at the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas in 1861 and died in 1863 after he was shot in battle and had his arm amputated. Jackson’s name was also removed from another high school in Virginia’s Prince William County in 2020 that is now known as Unity Reed High School.

Ashby Lee is named for both Gen. Robert E. Lee, a Virginia native who commanded Confederate forces, and for Turner Ashby, a Confederate cavalry officer who was killed in battle in 1862 near Harrisonburg, Virginia. A high school near Harrisonburg is also named for Ashby.

The resolution approved by the school board states that private donations will be used to pay for the name changes. Shenandoah County is a largely rural jurisdiction with a population of about 45,000, roughly 100 miles west of the nation’s capital.

In Virginia, local governments were banned from removing Confederate memorials and statues until a 2020 law lifted those restrictions. Statues of Confederate leaders, including Lee, Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were removed from Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue in 2020 and 2021 following protests and vandalizing of the statues.