Public packs Shenandoah County School Board meeting to discuss school renamings | Nvdaily

The Shenandoah County School Board heard from dozens of people about whether the names of Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School should be restored during its meeting Thursday night.

In 2020, the school board voted to rename the Quicksburg schools because they were named for Confederate generals. The renaming was part of a resolution condemning racism and affirming the division’s commitment to an inclusive school environment for all.

Effective July 1, Stonewall Jackson was renamed Mountain View High School and Ashby Lee was renamed Honey Run Elementary School.

Since that 2020 vote, new school board members have been voted into office and some Shenandoah County residents have wanted to revisit the renaming decision. On Thursday, the meeting room was packed with every seat filled and some citizens standing. During public comment on agenda items, 43 citizens spoke on the subject of the school names. The public comments on the school names lasted slightly over two hours with comments from both sides.

Pat Murphy, a former counselor at WW Robinson Elementary School, said that the name changes were needed. “Our schools need to reflect who we are now, we’re a different group of people,” Murphy said.

Shenandoah County resident Neal Thorne commented how changing the names is not about erasing the history or the heritage of the county. “Southern separatism, even symbolic in the name, is not equal or inclusive for our public schools,” Thorne said.

Other citizens were opposed to the name change and saw the names as a good way to represent the county’s history.

“Stonewall Jackson, Turner Ashby, and Robert E. Lee were outstanding individuals with impeccable morals and we need a lot more of that today,” said Fred Neece, of Shenandoah County.

Ken Cruz, of Toms Brook, said the number of name changes that have taken place around the country has gotten out of hand. “Are we going to change the name of Washington, DC, because George Washington had slaves,” Cruz asked.

Eli Dellinger, who graduated from Stonewall Jackson in 2021, explained why she wanted the name of Mountain View to remain.

“Stonewall Jackson may have been a good man in a few ways but in his hallmark achievement he represents someone who did the wrong thing because it was easy rather than right because it was hard,” Dellinger said.

Lois Ware, a former teacher at Ashby Lee, spoke about how most of her family has left Shenandoah County because of their experiences at Stonewall Jackson and Ashby Lee.

“I taught at Ashby Lee and I was the only person of color there, and I can count on my hand how many people were good to me,” Ware said.

Many speakers said the school board’s process of changing the names was rushed and not conducted in the correct manner.

“I think the changing of names was not done in a democratic way,” said Allen Dodson, a 1965 graduate of Stonewall Jackson. “The board didn’t even follow the school board’s policy on changing names of a school.”

Stephen Heishman, of Shenandoah County, said that two days prior to the renaming decision the school board was given a petition with 3,243 signatures of citizens who were against the name change.

“We chose to give you every opportunity to see the voice of the people of Shenandoah County and they were ignored back then,” Heishman said.

“As you contemplate the name change, I am reminded that the previous board spent $304,000 to change the names on a brick building, and that could’ve been spent to benefit the children,” said Renee Hawkins, of Shenandoah County. “We’re not going to take money from the budget. We’re gonna raise that money outside like it was supposed to be done the first time, to restore the names.”

Many speakers commented that they wanted a vote to take place on what the schools should be named.

“If the people want to revisit the issue and talk about it and bring it to some type of vote, referendum, or collection of input from the people of Shenandoah county that is what I would do as a school board member,” said School Board member Kyle Gutshall, who was elected in November.

“I think it is something that needs to be revisited with some sort of measurable metrics on what the will of the people actually want,” said School Board member Brandi Rutz, who was elected in November.

Board member Andrew Keller says he is fine with revisiting the issue, but that they also have to think about the students. “The number one criteria has to be what is in the best interest for kids,” Keller said. “That is part of our responsibility as the school board.”

Board member Cynthia Walsh commented that the petitions given to the board did not include the majority of county residents.

“There are 42,000 people in Shenandoah County, so adding the two petitions together and the people we’ve heard from that’s probably about 6,000 people, but that is only a seventh of the people in Shenandoah County,” Walsh said. “We hear the people who are passionate about both sides of the issue, but there’s all those people in the middle who are not contacting us that we also represent.”

On Thursday, school board members approved the idea of ​​a survey that would allow citizens to vote on whether the names of Stonewall Jackson and Ashby Lee should be restored. The survey will be limited to parents, students, staff, and alumni who are involved with Mountain View and Honey Run.

The format of the survey will continue to be discussed. However, it will still be the school board’s decision as to whether the school names are restored.

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