Time to Face the 21st Century

by Robert Barnette

President, Hanover NAACP

The Hanover Branch of the NAACP sued the County School Board and Board of Supervisors in August, saying that Lee Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School names violate the constitutional rights of black students and their families by making them feel unwelcome and creating an unequal learning environment. Specifically, the lawsuit claims; under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Compelled Speech claims under the First Amendment, and claims under the Equal Education Opportunity Act.

• The Equal Protection Clause protects African American members of the NAACP from being treated differently from others by Hanover County representatives.

• The First Amendment protects “free speech” but it also stops the government from forcing people to make statements they do not believe in—for example, wearing school uniforms or shirts that celebrate the Confederate soldiers and mascots.

• The Equal Education Opportunity Act requires schools to remove vestiges of segregation. The School Board has failed to do this since the 1960s when it chose Confederate names that told every African American student that s/he was not welcome in Hanover County.

The judge dismissed a motion by the School Board attorneys that the BOS did not have the authority to change the names of these two schools. Now the sole defendant of the NAACP’s lawsuit is the School Board. The School Board held a closed session meeting on November 22nd to consider resolving the lawsuit but chose to take no action.

The Hanover Branch of the NAACP held its November meeting on Tuesday, November 26th and the main topic of concern was to answer questions from the public concerning the litigation status. Kaitlin Banner and Azadeh Erfani, from the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, were present and answered questions from the audience. Questions included; what are the next steps in the litigation process? What is the cost of the County’s attorney fees? Why did the judge dismiss the Board of Supervisors, when do you anticipate this lawsuit will be heard in court? And many other questions were asked.

Most people indicated that the Board of Supervisors should not have been dismissed because they appoint School Board representatives. Several people indicated that the cost figures for changing the name were inflated and not accurate due to other organizations such as the Band Boosters and PTAs contributing to the cost of purchasing uniforms and/or equipment.

It’s time Hanover begins thinking about what’s best for students facing the challenges of the 21st century, and not stay stuck in the past.