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Northam calls on districts to eliminate Confederate school names

Posted at 1:57 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 14:55:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Ralph Northam is calling on Virginia school districts to change school names and mascots that honor Confederate leaders.

In a July 6 letter addressed to Virginia School Board Chairs, Northam compared the Confederate school names to Confederate statues, saying they have a traumatizing impact on students, families, teachers and staff of all backgrounds.

"When our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slavery and systemic racism, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we tacitly endorse their values as our own. This is no longer acceptable," Northam wrote.

The governor said the names also perpetutate the hurt woven into a past of slavery and racism and sends students a clear message on "what we value the most."

"Recognizing the harmful impact these school names have on our children, I am calling on school boards to evaluate the history behind your school names," Northam wrote.

"The financial costs of changing school names are minimal compared to the generations that suffered through American slavery, the Confederacy, the Jim-Crow era, massive resistance, and contemporary manifestation of systemic racism, like the school to prison pipeline," he added.

Northam says he is looking forward to working with the school leaders to create a Commonwealth reflective of the values Virginians hold most true today.

"Now is the time to change them to reflect the inclusive, diverse, and welcoming school community every child deserves, and that we as leaders of the Commonwealth, have a civic duty to foster."

State Superintendent James Lane echoed the governor's sentiment in a statement Tuesday.

“Our schools should be welcoming to all students, and the names and mascots of our schools should not promote a history of racism,” Lane said. “I believe that the governor’s letter will prompt overdue conversations about inclusiveness in the few divisions that still have buildings with Confederate names.”

There is currently a lawsuit, filed by Hanover County NAACP chapter, challenging the use of Confederate names and imagery at Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School.

The lawsuit argues the nicknames violates students' first amendment rights.

A hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled for March of 2021.

CBS 6 reached out Hanover County Schools regarding their response to the governor's letter. Hanover County School Board Chairman John F. Axselle III released a statement that read:

"While I understand your interest, the School Board cannot comment on the Governor's letter due to the pending appeal of the Hanover NAACP’s lawsuit against the Hanover County School Board regarding the names and mascots of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School. As always, the School Board respects, values, and cares about every student and will continue to focus on providing them with the best educational opportunities possible."

In Henrico County, Douglas freeman High School is asking for input from students, families, and alumni on potentially changing their nickname -- the Rebels.