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School board takes no action on NAACP suit

School board takes no action on NAACP suit

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Roger Bourassa

ASHLAND -- There are only 13 schools remaining in Virginia with names of Confederate leaders according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. That’s down from 21 in 2018 as Roanoke, Richmond and other communities have chosen to change the school names that have long been objectionable to the African American community and others.

Two of those remaining schools are located in Hanover County, and the objections of the county’s NAACP and others have been consistent and clear.

An effort to change the names in 2018 fell short when the Hanover County School Board voted 5-2 to maintain the current names and mascots of Lee-Davis High School, the Confederates, and Stonewall Jackson Middle School, the Rebels.

Some board members in favor of keeping the names said their votes partially relied on a public survey where more than 13,000 county residents expressed a desire not to change the names.

The efforts to change the names and mascots were amplified earlier this year when the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the school board demanding the change, citing First and Fourteenth amendment violations.

At a school board meeting earlier this month, board members issued a press release announcing a special meeting that occurred last Friday to discuss a possible settlement in the case.

The press release announced that the special closed session meeting would “discuss a possible resolution to the pending lawsuit filed by the Hanover County Unit of the NAACP.”

When that meeting was gaveled to order on Friday, the school board immediately entered closed session. Ninety minutes later, they emerged and began a public session that included Action Items.

Action Items on the board’s agenda usually are accompanied by a vote or deferral, but in this case, board chair Roger Bourassa addressed the agenda item with a simple sentence.

“The board is not taking any action on this item tonight,” Bourassa said.

Seconds later, John Axselle moved for adjournment.

The no action was perceived by some as a defeat for proponents of a name change. Others maintained it means a costly, and potentially damaging, lawsuit continues without resolution as legal fees continue to mount with the discovery process proceeding ahead at full speed.

“Members of Together Hanover are deeply disappointed that Hanover County Public Schools chose to make poor use of potentially millions of citizens’ tax dollars to continue with the lawsuit and to continue with venerating the Confederate and segregationist causes in our schools,” said Rachel Levy, speaking for Together Hanover, a community citizens group that has actively campaigned for the name changes.

“We urge the school board to come to their senses and do the right thing: settle the lawsuit and change the names,” Levy added.

“I’m glad they didn’t give in,” said Grayson Jennings, the only member of the public that attended the meeting and waited for the result. He said school board members should reflect the views of their community and said the issue involves heritage and history.

Jennings proudly displayed a Lee-Davis t-shirt at Friday’s meeting.

Others took to Facebook to express their support of the non-action that appeared to signal a non-settlement position.

“Finally a governing body who pays attention to the will of its citizenry. Thank you for not caving to the blackmail and bullying tactics of the naacp (sic),” one poster wrote.

NAACP president Robert Barnette said, “I am disappointed that the school board decided not to take action to resolve the lawsuit” following Friday’s decision.

Shortly after the board’s action, the local NAACP announced a meeting scheduled for this week in Ashland that would address the current status of their suit with attorneys representing the local Unit present.

Updates from that meeting will be provided via our website.

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