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WATCH NOW: Two lawsuits challenge Lee statue's removal; Northam says 'divisive' monument 'needs to come down'

As two legal challenges seek to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the “divisive” symbol has to go.

The suits challenge Northam’s plans to take down the most well-known Confederate symbol in the former capital of the Confederacy. One suit, which hinges on language in the deed signed in 1890 giving Virginia control of the statue, led a Richmond judge Monday night to pause the state’s removal plans.

A second lawsuit, also filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, with no decision yet, says the removal would violate federal landmark law.

In an 18-page complaint filed Monday in Richmond Circuit Court, William C. Gregory, the great-grandson of two signatories of the deed, argues that under the terms of the 1890 agreement and a legislature-approved resolution, the state is supposed to consider the monument and the area around it “perpetually sacred” and “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”

Northam, citing authority given to him in the Code of Virginia, announced last week that the state plans to remove the Lee statue, part of a larger purge of Confederate iconography along Monument Avenue, “as soon as possible.”

Hours after Gregory’s lawsuit was filed Monday, Richmond Circuit Judge Bradley B. Cavedo granted a 10-day injunction to temporarily stop the state from removing the statue.

Northam said at a news conference Tuesday that he remains committed to removing the monument.

“This is a statue that is divisive. It needs to come down,” Northam said, “and we are on very legal solid grounds to have it taken down.”

Gregory, who is being represented by lawyer Joseph Blackburn Jr., said the state’s intentions are “in conflict” with the 1890 agreement. The lawsuit criticizes Northam’s plan to remove the statue and also criticizes the graffiti that’s been put on the statue by protesters, who have rallied at the monument over the past week and a half in opposition to police brutality and racism.

The lawsuit claims the graffiti has happened “in large part” because of the state’s “failure to guard and protect the Lee Monument as required by the Deed and Joint Resolution, and carry out their official responsibilities.”

Roger Gregory and Bettie F. Allen Gregory signed the March 17, 1890, deed, transferring the land, a 200-foot diameter circular plot, from the family to the state. Then-Gov. P.W. McKinney also signed the deed, according to the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Gregory, the great-grandson, says removing the statue would cause “irreparable harm” because his family “has taken pride for 130 years in this statue resting upon land belonging to his family and transferred to the commonwealth in consideration of the commonwealth contractually guaranteeing to perpetually care for and protect the Lee Monument.”

“The failure to enter an injunction would allow the commonwealth to breach its contract with impunity,” the complaint says.

In the injunction issued late Monday, Cavedo said there is “a likelihood of irreparable harm to the statue” if it is removed as proposed by Northam and Department of General Services Director Joe Damico, the two defendants in the lawsuit.

“It is in the public interest to await resolution of this case on the merits prior to removal of the statue by defendants, and the public interest weighs in favor of maintaining the status quo,” the injunction reads.

State workers started inspecting the monument Monday for its planned removal. A specific date has not been set.

Bill Gallasch, the president of the Monument Avenue Preservation Society, a decades-old association different from a similarly named Facebook group that’s posted controversial messages about the monuments in recent weeks, did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Northam’s office said last week when it announced the removal plans that the governor was acting under executive authority and cited part of the state code that gives the governor power to remove existing works of art owned by the state.

In a statement Tuesday, Blackburn, Conte, Schilling, & Click, the law firm representing Gregory, said it takes seriously “our obligation to represent clients and handle cases even when those cases are controversial or unpopular.”

“Our legal system works best when every client is zealously represented,” the firm said, adding that it has put in "countless hours" of pro bono representation, including offering pro bono representation to those arrested in the recent protests. “We do not accept or refuse a case based on our personal beliefs. We believe that every client deserves proper legal representation, and we will present each case to the court, allow the court to make a reasoned decision, and respect the ruling of the court.”

The second lawsuit, from Henrico County resident William Davis, who is representing himself, asks the state to stop its removal efforts and restore the statue to its appearance before the graffiti.

“It’s sad to see all the people posing in front of it,” Davis said in a brief interview Tuesday, citing some of the profane slogans on the statue’s pedestal.

Davis cited removal requirements from the National Register of Historic Places, which the Lee statue is on, that he says the state hasn’t met.

Julie Langan, director and state historic preservation officer of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said last week that the statue’s listing on national and state historic registers does not have bearing on its potential removal.

Asked about the second suit, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky reiterated that the governor “remains committed to removing this divisive symbol” and is confident in his authority to do so.

Rita Davis, Northam’s counsel, said Tuesday that the administration had expected legal action and a possible injunction.

“That is by no means the end of the issue,” she said, adding that her office had been preparing for taking down the monument for more than a year. “It is only the beginning.”

As for the statue, Davis said: “Let’s be clear about one major thing here. Though this monument was cast in the image of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the purpose of this monument was to recast Virginia’s history — to recast it to fit a narrative that minimized a devastating evil perpetrated on African Americans during the darkest part of our past.”

Davis said Northam’s decision to move forward with the effort to remove the statue takes Virginia “a step closer to reclaiming the truth of Virginia’s history” for all Virginians.

Columbus statue removed from lake Wednesday after it was torn down at Byrd Park late Tuesday

About a thousand protesters gathered around the city’s monument to Christopher Columbus in Byrd Park on Tuesday evening to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples.

Protests across the country have prompted national reckoning with the historical injustices perpetuated against African Americans. At Tuesday’s protest, activist and founder of Marijuana Justice Chelsea Higgs-Wise reminded attendees that, amid these discussions, “We have to start where it all began — we have to start with the people who stood first on this land.”

A few protesters stood at the base of the paint-spattered Columbus monument. “This land is Powhatan land,” read one’s sign. Another: “Columbus represents genocide.”

After about seven speakers, the crowd began to march down Arthur Ashe Boulevard, chanting “take it down.” Less than two hours later, they did just that.

Upon returning to Byrd Park after the march, protesters used ropes to pull down the approximately 8-foot statue, then moved it some 200 yards across the road at the Arthur Ashe Boulevard entrance and submerged it in Fountain Lake. According to a social media post, the statue was briefly set on fire.

A police helicopter was circling above the park after the statue was torn down, but there was no immediate visible police presence at the park, although Richmond police were aware of the incident.

Tamara Jenkins, spokeswoman for the parks and recreation department, said that the statue was removed Wednesday morning from the lake. She said she could not disclose where it was taken. She said she had not received any report on possible damage.

Richmond police said Wednesday there were no arrests at the park related to the incident.

The Columbus statue, which stood next to the tennis courts at Byrd Park, was the first statue of Christopher Columbus erected in the South, according to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In the early 1920s, Richmond’s Italian-American community wanted to gift a statue of their kinsman to their adopted home and hoped it would go on Monument Avenue. But their request was quickly rejected by a city committee, according to the newspaper. In June 1927, ground was broken on the Boulevard. The statue was dedicated in December 1927.

Earlier during the protest Tuesday, Vanessa Bolin, a member of the Richmond Indigenous Society, stood on a truck bed in the shadow of the statue and spoke to the crowd. She pointed out the parallel struggles of indigenous and black people in America.

“This continent is built on the blood and the bones of our ancestors, but it is built off the backs and the sweat and the tears and the blood and the bones of Africans,” Bolin said.

“We’re not here to hijack your movement. We’re here to stand in solidarity.”

Joseph Rogers, another speaker, began by proclaiming “this is Powhatan land,” which prompted applause from the crowd. Rogers tied the plight of African Americans to that of indigenous peoples, portraying their respective struggles as unified against white supremacy and institutionalized racism.

“We cannot fight white supremacy without recognizing and uplifting one of its earliest victims on this continent,” he said, in reference to genocide committed by white colonizers against Native Americans.

Guadalupe Ramirez, who descends from the Maya people and owns AlterNatives Boutique in Carytown, came out to the protest to stand in solidarity with both black and indigenous communities.

She roamed through the crowd with Ben Blevins, director of the Highland Support Project, which seeks to support and empower indigenous communities in the Richmond area. They passed out white candles — which are often used in Mayan ceremonies.

“There’s a notion that you burn a white candle when you want the winds to blow out change, blow out the bad to bring forth the good news,” she said.

PHOTOS: Richmond protest in support of indigenous peoples

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WATCH NOW: Here is how schools in Virginia will be allowed to reopen

Virginia schools will reopen in phases, with restrictions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 that will make education look far different than when schools closed in March.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday long-awaited guidance that outlines how Virginia schools will be able to reopen. The recommendations outline the different stages schools will operate in while giving individual school systems the power to instill tougher restrictions.

“To be clear, all Virginia schools will open for students next year,” Northam said. “But the school experience will look very different. These phases will allow in-person instruction, but slowly. We’ll start with small groups, and we will allow each school division the flexibility it needs to respond to the needs of its own locality.”

The three stages range from an initial phase in which remote learning predominates, to a second phase that pays particular attention to in-person instruction for the youngest pupils and students learning English, to a third phase that would allow in-person instruction for all students but maintain social distancing protocols, such as staying 6 feet apart in classrooms and on buses.

As students return, schools could also see mask-wearing and daily health screenings for students and staff as part of the routine, as federal health officials recommend.

“The phased, hybrid approach allows (pre-K through 12th grade) students to have valuable class time and face-to-face interaction with their peers, while prioritizing health and safety by ensuring physical distancing measures are maintained,” said James Lane, the state’s public schools chief. “This plan keeps equity at the forefront by giving divisions the opportunity to deliver in-person instruction to those who need it the most.”

The phases coincide with the state’s broader reopening plans, meaning most school districts are in localities that are in the second phase. Richmond and Northern Virginia will enter Phase Two on Friday after being held back in the first phase because of COVID-19’s continued spread.

A separate announcement for how to reopen colleges is expected Thursday, said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni.

K-12 schools in the state have remained shuttered since mid-March when Northam ordered them closed. The governor extended his initial two-week closure to the rest of the academic year on March 23, making Virginia just the second state in the country to do so.

Students and teachers transitioned to virtual learning, trying to learn and teach from home while struggling with technology issues and access. Schools have tried to feed students through distribution sites and, in some cases, taking food directly to them. Sports were canceled, and events like graduation have been significantly altered.

Next school year will also look drastically different.

Minimizing risk

“Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus and meets the needs of the Virginia students who have been disproportionately impacted by lost classroom time,” Northam said.

Similar to how Virginia has reopened businesses, the state will set the floor for COVID-19 restrictions and let school districts put tougher measures in place. School systems in the Richmond area and across the state have already started discussions on how to reopen.

Tuesday’s release of statewide guidance, which was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, provides a detailed look at what schools will look like and how districts will approach reopening.

Richmond area

“We really appreciate this clarity from the state,” said Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras. “Next step for RPS is surveying our families and staff to gauge their comfort level with various social distancing scenarios that comply with this new guidance.”

Henrico County Public Schools spokesman Andy Jenks said the county school system is reviewing the state’s guidance “so it’s too early for us to paint the full picture, but we know already that this summer and fall will be about reimagining the school experience and building community confidence that our schools will continue to be a healthy and safe place for students to learn and grow.”

Merv Daugherty, the schools chief in Chesterfield County, said he’s looking forward to reviewing the state’s plans, including the larger “Recover, Redesign, Restart” guidance that was released Tuesday evening.

“We also will be studying carefully how these incorporate social distancing practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said. “We know that creativity in terms of school design will be needed in order to accommodate social distancing guidance, and that school will not look like it did ... when we were last in classrooms.”

Hanover officials have said the state’s guidelines will “help to illuminate our path forward.”

Before entering the second or third phase, school districts across the state will be required to submit a plan to the Virginia Department of Education for how they will address the virus’s public health risk. Private schools accredited through the Virginia Council for Private Education will submit plans to that organization.

Public school districts will also be required to send in plans for providing new instruction to all students in the upcoming school year. That plan “must also include strategies to address learning lost due to spring 2020 school closures and plans for fully remote instruction should public health conditions require it,” according to the guidance.

Tackling that learning loss will happen in three phases, but state officials say some of the restrictions outlined in their guidance could still be in place even after the stages. Officials also said in the guidance that schools should follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reopening, which include daily health screenings for staff and students and people wearing face masks in schools, among other things.

Here’s what the different phases look like for schools in Virginia.

Phase One

The first reopening phase is effective immediately, but still relies on remote learning as the primary way students learn.

In this phase, school districts can provide in-person instruction for students with disabilities in extended school year services and school year special education services, such as private day schools, with “strict social distancing.”

“Students will only attend such programs if the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team agrees it is appropriate and the parent consents,” the guidance reads. “Virtual instruction may remain appropriate for certain students who may be challenged with adherence to the strict social distancing and safety guidelines as determined by the IEP team and the parents’ consent.”

Students are able to access school buildings with permission from the superintendent or private school leader “for critical instructional needs, such as accessing a secure assessment” if they abide by social distancing and other prevention strategies.

Those strategies include creating space between students on school buses, such as one student per seat or seating them every other row. On the buses, there should not be more than 10 people. In classrooms, there should not be more than 10 people, and they should stay at least 6 feet apart “to the greatest extent possible.”

In this phase, no athletics or extracurricular activities are allowed.

Phase Two

The second phase, which districts must get state permission to enter, allows for more in-person instruction.

Schools can bring in students in preschool through third grade and students learning English “given the unique challenges of providing remote academic and social emotional support to young learners and English language learners.” Across the state, students learning English graduate at a far lower rate (71%) than the statewide rate (91.5%), according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Extracurricular activities like clubs can resume in this phase if they abide by social distancing. Summer camps in school settings can also restart, but programs “should ideally be limited to children in the local geographic area.”

Phase Two also allows for sports to start, but with extensive limitations. The guidance says athletics should be limited to individual or team-based practice, skill-building drills or conditioning.

The Virginia Department of Health recommended in the guidance that youth and school sports don’t take place in this phase “unless physical distancing can be maintained at all times.” An example provided in the guidance is individual swimmers showing up at scheduled times to have their event timed.

“Competition that involves contact with other athletes should be avoided,” according to the guidance.

The second phase includes the same recommendations for buses, but does allow siblings who live together to sit together on the bus.

Phase Three

The final phase with guidance resumes in-person instruction for all students but is still a far cry from a traditional school setup.

People should stay at least 6 feet apart. Districts should consider not mixing classes and limit recess, and other outdoor activities, to 50 people. Schools should close or stagger the use of communal spaces like cafeterias. The same restrictions as Phase Two would be in place for buses.

Students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness would be allowed to receive telework and remote learning exceptions, according to the guidance.

Even with the resumption of in-person schooling, the number of students allowed in schools and classrooms is likely to be different.

“A multifaceted instructional approach may need to be planned for Phase III,” the guidance says.

Some districts, including those in the Richmond area, have been considering a hybrid reopening model, where some students come back to school for a set period of time while others continue to learn remotely.

The third phase does allow sports and extracurricular activities to continue “with some mitigation measures.” More guidance is expected on athletics and extracurricular activities.

WATCH NOW: Richmond will move into Phase Two of reopening on Friday

Richmond and Northern Virginia will move into the second phase of the state’s gradual reopening this Friday, a week behind the rest of the state.

Richmond and the counties and cities in the Washington area had delayed reopenings at the request of local leaders, who suggested that higher case incidence and density required a slower approach.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said the localities had met the state’s key measures, including apt testing and supply of protective equipment, as well as a downward-trending rate of positive cases for COVID-19.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney backed the decision in a statement Tuesday: “Given the data landscape, the governor’s requirement that all Virginians wear face coverings and my trust in the Richmond community to look out for each other, I’m comfortable with our city entering Phase Two of Forward Virginia.”

Restaurants and bars will be able to open their businesses for indoor dining at 50% capacity, while gyms may open at 30% capacity. The state will allow some recreation and entertainment venues to reopen, such as pools, museums and outdoor concert venues. But indoor concert venues and overnight camps will remain closed.

Restrictions on social gatherings will rise from 10 people to 50, though the guidelines call for social distancing of 6 feet to continue.

In Phase Two, all Virginians are asked to continue following social distancing, teleworking and face mask guidelines, and encouraged to base their travel decisions around the idea that they’re “safer at home.”


Also Tuesday, Northam announced the appointment of Curtis Brown to lead the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Brown will become the first African American to lead the state’s emergency management agency, a role that has become critical amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown will replace Jeff Stern, who left the agency to take a job at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Brown previously served as a deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security under Secretary Brian Moran. Prior to that, he served as a chief deputy state coordinator at VDEM.

In another historic appointment, Northam named Jehmal Hudson to a vacant seat on the State Corporation Commission. Hudson will become the first African American to sit on the commission.

During the legislature’s regular 2020 session, the Democratic caucuses of both chambers nominated Hudson, formerly director of governmental affairs at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for the SCC role.

Senate Republicans blocked his nomination on a procedural vote.

In the absence of a nominee from legislators, state law allows Northam to name a commissioner on an interim basis, until the legislature convenes again.

Also Tuesday, Northam named three new members to the Virginia Crime Commission, a body that studies policy related to law enforcement to inform state policy.

The new members are Norfolk Chief of Police Larry Boone; Larry Terry, the director of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia; and Lori Haas, a gun control activist whose daughter was injured in the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

Coverage inside

Lag in reporting

Virginia Department of Health has a backlog of 13,000 test results. Page A6

Global reopening

In poor areas of the world, easing virus lockdowns brings new risks. Page A12

Young athletes

Like schools, high school sports will take a phased-in approach in Virginia. Page B1