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Judge Hears Arguments in Confederate Named Schools Lawsuit

Sign reading "Hanover County School Board"
Hanover County School Board offices. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

A federal judge in Richmond pushed back Monday on the Hanover County Branch of the NAACP’s complaint that the Hanover County School Board discriminated against African American students when it named two schools after confederate generals and kept those names in place. 

The Hanover County NAACP said the board violated the constitutional rights of African American students when it named Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Lee-Davis High School in 1958 and 1969. And, they said it continues violating students' rights by maintaining those names. The school mascots are also Rebels and Confederates, respectively. 

In the complaint, filed in August, the NAACP said the board is violating African American students’ 14th Amendment right to Equal Protection by forcing them to attend a school rife with confederate imagery and veneration and  “Forcing public school children to use Confederate names as a condition of participation forces them to engage in speech they disavow, in violation of their First Amendment right to be free of compelled speech”.

Attorneys for the school board said too much time has passed to hold the current school board liable for a decision made more than 50 years ago. 

“We think that our claims are viable and are not barred by any statute of limitations,” said Cyril Djoukeng, an attorney for the Hanover NAACP.  

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Payne appeared to agree that the statute of limitations for challenging the initial naming of the schools had passed. 

“I believe it is time barred,” he said. 

When NAACP attorneys made the case that the board continues to violate students constitutional rights by keeping the names in place he asked, “When does the county stop being liable for naming the school?

Cassandra Demouchet graduated from Lee-Davis High School in 1977, and was in the courtroom. 

“I think the name does need to be changed, along with the mascot name. Because it doesn’t represent today’s culture and it didn’t represent the culture then,” Demouchet said.

Payne will now decide whether the case should go to trial. 

In April, Hanover School Board voted 5-2 against renaming the two schools.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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