Hanover County School Board members already unhappy with the decision to strip Confederate names from two county schools have rejected the top pick of a committee tasked with helping to rechristen the former Lee-Davis High.
Twin Rivers, a nod to the Pamunkey and Chickahominy, which flow through the county, didn’t land with board member Norman Sulser, those who voiced concerns during a meeting Wednesday or respondents to three community polls.
Of the nearly 2,700 responses to the surveys, iterations of names using Mechanicsville to replace Lee-Davis or the former Stonewall Jackson Middle School were listed 1,148 times. Twin Rivers initially was mentioned three times.
The committee recommended Mechanicsville for the middle school in a nod to survey respondents but worried about confusion from having three schools named for Mechanicsville in the school system (there also is a Mechanicsville Elementary), said Carol Cash, a former Lee-Davis principal and current program leader for educational leadership and policy studies at Virginia Tech, who spoke on behalf of the committee.
“Everybody knows about Mechanicsville,” lifetime county resident Chris Cray told the board, adding he’s never heard the term Twin Rivers used in Hanover. “We’ve all been here. The school deserves to be named Mechanicsville.”
The School Board will make the final decision, and is slated to vote Oct. 13. Board Chairman John Axselle said that when it does, Twin Rivers will be off the table.
“This is an extremely important thing we’re doing,” Axselle said. “I mean, this name is going up, and it’s going to be a part of the community for many, many, many, many years. And it’s not something that I think we need to rush because it is [not only going to] affect the community of students that were on the committee today, but it will be affecting students for years to come.”
The culture war that emerged during debate over stripping the tributes to two Confederate generals and the president of the Confederacy from the schools was again on full display in initial suggestions gathered during the renaming process.
Among the list of possible replacements, which consisted largely of place names, jokes and appeals to keep the old names: “Appeasement” middle; “Cancel Culture High and Revisionist Middle”; “Black lives matter is cancer” high; and “TRUMP HIGH and REAGAN MIDDLE.”
Also included: Angela Davis High School.
Mechanicsville received nearly 74% of the vote for the high school name and 64.6% for the middle school in a second round of polls. Among the finalists in the third round, Mechanicsville received 56.4% of the vote for the high school name and 49.50% for the middle school. About 1 in 3 voters selected Twin Rivers for the high school in the third round.
Cash acknowledged that Mechanicsville was one of the most popular choices and told the board that Twin Rivers was recommended for the high school because they wanted a unique name for each school.
Cash said the committee’s preference and survey results saw Creek Run and Twin Rivers — with the exception of Mechanicsville — as the strongest choices both separately and together for the middle and high school, respectively.
A board member asked if there was a consideration to name the high school Mechanicsville and pick a different name for the middle school. Cash countered, telling the board the name Mechanicsville would be difficult to put on athletic uniforms and spiritwear.
Amid the debate, Sulser moved to change the name of the new high school to Mechanicsville and discuss a new name for the middle school at October’s meeting.
Before the discussion began, people voiced their concerns in person and through statements made via email, which were read aloud to a socially distanced crowd.
Several wrote in to say the names chosen for the schools weren’t representative of what the county wanted. One person called for the survey results to be released publicly.
Among those who voiced their distaste was Andrew Morehead, who mentioned that when a survey was put out in 2018, 70% of Hanover residents wanted the names of the two schools to remain.
Morehead’s statement was seconded by Allen Glass, another community member who graduated from the former Lee-Davis in 1976. He called for the board to listen to public input.
The board was divided when it voted on the Confederate names in July, splitting 4-3 as fallout from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody gripped the nation.
The decision riled some members of the county’s Board of Supervisors, leading Chairman Canova Peterson to call the move “a complete failure of leadership.”
“We talk a lot about bullying in our schools. Well let me tell you that in this matter the biggest bully right now is the School Board and the senior administration,” Peterson said at a board meeting July 24.
Black and brown county residents who for years have voiced their experiences with racism in Hanover have celebrated the decision as a victory for young people who no longer will have to play for school teams bearing the nicknames “Confederates” (Lee-Davis) and “Rebels” (Stonewall Jackson).
The School Board had voted 5-2 in 2018 to keep the names, leading the Hanover NAACP to file a federal lawsuit alleging that the names violated the constitutional rights of African American students. A judge dismissed the suit in May, just before Floyd’s killing.
The School Board on Wednesday approved spending $495,000 on costs related to the name changes. Of that, $280,000 covers operations with a $310,017 balance in contingency for the remainder of the year, $150,000 covers painting, $24,324 covers building upgrades and $40,676 covers grounds upgrades, according to board documents. The final cost is contingent on decisions about school colors and mascots.