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Hanover School Board votes to keep Confederate school names
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Hanover School Board votes to keep Confederate school names

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Lee-Davis

Lee-Davis High School opened in 1959 and remained white-only until 1963. It was named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

No school name changes are coming in Hanover County.

The Hanover School Board voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to keep the names and mascots of Lee-Davis High School (Confederates) and Stonewall Jackson Middle School (Rebels) after a monthslong process in which the majority of county residents urged the board to leave the names undisturbed.

Voting in favor of keeping the names were Sue Dibble of the South Anna District, Roger Bourassa of the Mechanicsville District, Norman Sulser of the Cold Harbor District, John Axselle III of the Beaverdam District and Robert Hundley Jr. of the Chickahominy District.

Marla Coleman of the Henry District and Ola Hawkins of the Ashland District voted in opposition.

Tuesday’s vote — in front of a standing-room-only crowd — came as little surprise after the majority of the board indicated at a work session last month that they would vote to keep the names, which honor Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson. Eighty percent of the student population at each school is white, according to state data.

The School Board is the lone body that has the authority to change school names in the county. The vote was met with some applause from the audience.

Dibble, reading off a prepared statement, called it a “complex and emotional” topic.

A survey conducted by the school division earlier this year revealed that a little more than 3 in 4 respondents wanted the names and mascots kept.

Survey results were released at the board’s March meeting before discussion at a special work session. More than 13,000 people responded to the survey, which asked several questions, including county district. It did not ask for respondents’ race.

Alumni of the two schools were the strongest supporters, according to the survey results, with 85 percent of Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson graduates saying the names shouldn’t change. Parents of students at the two schools also showed strong support, at 83 percent.

Among county stakeholders, support was weakest from the school division’s faculty and staff, which had 36 percent of respondents say the names should change.

“In erasing and replacing the names of these mascots, you erase not simply U.S. history, but Virginia history,” one survey respondent wrote.

As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8,008 people had signed an independent online petition to keep the name, while 2,350 had signed the dueling online petition to change the name.

“Schools that are provided public funding should not be named after civil war leaders that were not in favor of uniting what is now the United States of America,” wrote a survey respondent seeking a name change. “The South was on the wrong end of history then, and Hanover County will be on the wrong end of history until they make a change here.”

During Tuesday night’s public comment period, 10 people spoke about the possible name change — one in favor of keeping the names and nine wanting the names changed.

“The best interest of present and future students has fallen by the wayside,” said Julie Stubblefield, who spoke on behalf of Together Hanover, a Hanover-based nonpartisan organization.

Said Wanda Burcham, who spoke in favor of the names: “The constituents have spoken. You’ve asked for a survey, and you’ve gotten it.”

Over the past four months, community members have voiced their opposition to or support for the names during the public comment period of School Board meetings.

Dibble, the board chairwoman, announced in early January that the school division would be seeking public input, which opened later that month with the survey. The survey was open until late February, and results were presented at the board’s March 13 meeting.

The first time the board dug into the results was at its work session on March 22, when the five members who ultimately voted to keep the names said the survey results were proof the board should keep the names.

Three weeks later, that’s what the board did.

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