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Shenandoah County schools will keep their new names

ShenCo School Board - Zoom.jpg
Bridget Manley
Screenshot of the Shenandoah County school board meeting 6/9/22

The Shenandoah County School Board voted Thursday night to keep the names of two schools that had been changed in 2020, following racial protests. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.

MEETING ROLL CALL: Roll call vote please…Ms. Walsh..No…Mr. Gutshall…Yes…Mr. Barlow…Yes…Ms. Rutz…Yes…Mr. Keller…No…Mr. Helsley…No…Motion ends in a three-three tie, so it is defeated.

The board voted three to three Thursday evening, ending in a tie and defeating the push to rename Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School to their former names, Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School.

The schools were renamed in 2020, after the police murder of George Floyd.

Community members, including alumni, expressed their opposition to the name change after the boards decision in 2020, and pushed the board to reinstate the names.

During the public comment prior to the vote, the board heard from those in favor of restoring the original names and those who asked the board to keep the new names, with comment lasting for more than an hour.

Alumni of Stonewall Jackson High School who are Black said the former names represented the racism they experienced while they attended school.

Pam Steptoe is a graduate of Stonewall Jackson, and spoke about the racism she faced as a student.

STEPTOE: It didn’t help that every day I went to school with a confederate flag next to the American flag, and next to the state flag. Elementary and high school. What did that say to me? It said to me that the confederacy was just as important as the United States of America, and the state of Virginia. And it just bothered me.

Some speakers were upset that the board didn’t involve the school and surrounding community in the process of removing the names from the schools.

Karen Katowski, a resident of Mount Jackson, was one of the community members upset with the board’s lack of community involvement.

KATOWSKI: This is exactly what y’all should have done, you know, two and a half years ago when you had this bright idea, is you should have consulted with the people. You should have had public hearings, you probably should have had a referendum. You didn’t do that.

The story has garnered national attention.

For WMRA News, I’m Bridget Manley.

Bridget Manley graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from Frostburg State University, and has spent most of her adult life working as a morning show producer and reporter for WCBC Radio in Cumberland, MD and WNAV in Annapolis, MD. She moved to Harrisonburg seven years ago and is also a reporter for The Harrisonburg Citizen. When she’s not reporting the news Bridget is the Manager of Operations for Rivercrest Farm and Event Center in Shenandoah, VA, and she also hosts a podcast that shares parenting stories called Birds In A Tree.