About 100 Hanover County students, parents and teachers protested outside a School Board meeting Tuesday, saying racism is present in the school system’s culture and demanding new names for Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School as the board met in closed session to discuss a lawsuit over the school names.
In May, a judge dismissed the Hanover NAACP’s lawsuit to change the name of the two schools, ruling it could not proceed because the statute of limitations had expired. Robert Barnette, the president of the group, said the NAACP is considering an appeal.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody ignited protests around the country and a reckoning in Richmond with Confederate symbols. The Confederate statues on Monument Avenue are coming down while debate continues on schools, streets and other public places named for those who fought to preserve slavery.
The School Board’s chairman, John Axselle, said after an hourlong closed session on the lawsuit that the board will continue to discuss the suit in closed-door meetings. The board took no action on the names, but Axselle addressed the unrest happening across the country on behalf of the board.
“We remain united in our core beliefs,” he said. “We believe racism and hatred have no place in our schools.”
All of the public comments at the virtual board meeting on Tuesday were about racism in Hanover schools or the renaming of the two schools. The clerk did not read the comments aloud.
“What is this absurd logic of protecting the white supremacist values of the Ku Klux Klan?” Alicia Neumann, a Pearson’s Corner Elementary parent, said at the protest. “The Ku Klux Klan is a terrorist organization. They sprung into existence after the Confederacy lost the Civil War, and their mission is to terrorize black citizens to keep them from exercising their right to vote. “
Fonjenik Turner has two black children in the school system. She said she was nervous to speak at the protest out of fear that her children may be retaliated against when school opens. But she said she wants to see the names of the schools changed, too.
She, along with others, also took issue with an email from Hanover High School’s principal, Kris Reece, sent on June 3.
The email, which was leaked on social media, reminded teachers to “remain neutral” on social issues, which some interpreted as a request to stop posting about Floyd.
“I need to remind you that as employees and educators, you are to be mindful of posting on social issues,” she said in the email. “Please remember that we must remain neutral so all students feel welcome in our class and our building.”
She later sent an apology to the staff.
“I care deeply about our students, families, and staff of color, and I wrote my message from a place of concern and compassion for our broader community,” she wrote. “I sincerely apologize if my message did not convey that.”
Protesters said there is a serious problem of racism in the county that must end.
One Hanover High School graduate, Kourtney Wilson, said she made it a point to keep her hair straight like her white friends while she attended Hanover High School, and she often felt like a “token” black girl while in school. She said she wants to make sure that her sister does not feel the same way when she begins attending Hanover High this fall.
Wilson said she wants to see the School Board members use their power to speak about racism. “You cannot be silent when it comes to racism. Black students do not feel safe, and enough is enough. Prayerfully something will change soon.”