The Hanover County School Board is considering settling a lawsuit brought by the county’s chapter of the NAACP over public schools named for Confederate leaders.
The board announced Tuesday night that it will meet behind closed doors next week to “discuss a possible resolution to the pending lawsuit” filed in August by the NAACP over the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
“The School Board is carefully and thoughtfully evaluating a variety of factors in its consideration of a possible resolution of the lawsuit,” School Board Chairman Roger Bourassa said Tuesday. “The School Board is committed to providing the best possible learning environment for all Hanover County students and makes every decision with the best interest of students in mind.”
Bourassa declined to say if board members had met with the NAACP before scheduling the meeting for 2 p.m. Nov. 22.
Robert Barnette, the president of the Hanover NAACP, said the group welcomed the move.
“The Hanover County Chapter of the NAACP supports the Hanover County School Board’s proposal to resolve the open lawsuit quickly and efficiently and invest in a more equitable Hanover County Public Schools,” Barnette said Wednesday morning.
Last year, the School Board voted 5-2 to retain the names of Lee-Davis, which honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson, named for the Confederate lieutenant general.
The vote followed a school system poll of county residents in which 3 in 4 respondents supported keeping the names.
A year later, the NAACP’s Hanover branch sued the county over the names, saying they violate the constitutional rights of black students and their families by making them feel unwelcome and creating an unequal learning environment.
Barnette and others have spoken during public comment over the past year, continuing to ask the School Board, which has the power to change the names, to do just that.
“Repeated dismissal of the persistent pleas from the community members to change the names and mascots would suggest that there is no intention of promoting a community that embraces diversity,” Hanover resident Amber Peacock said during Tuesday night’s public comment period.
“If the school names and mascots should be changed will continue to be debated long after Nov. 22, but if Hanover County school district is to become a place where social, cultural, emotional and educational equity is achieved ... then whether the school names and mascots will be changed is quite frankly no longer debatable.”
Schools Superintendent Michael Gill has declined to weigh in on the names, saying in August that it would be “highly inappropriate” for him “to comment or take a position on this matter,” since it’s the School Board’s responsibility.
The board is also now considering the cost of changing the names. Members punted on ordering an analysis when the matter came before them in March 2018. The administration estimates the name changes would cost $495,000.
Bourassa said the board is wary of a costly, protracted legal battle.
“If the School Board decides to continue the litigation, the School Board will incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs defending the lawsuit,” he said, adding that it could take a minimum of two years for a decision to be made in court.
“If the NAACP prevails in the lawsuit, the School Board could be responsible for the NAACP’s legal fees, which are expected to be several million dollars.”
At the end of his statement, Bourassa said both Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson will eventually be rebuilt and “will be renamed pursuant to existing School Board Policy.”
That policy states that no school should be named for a person, living or dead.