CYNTHIA WALSH

Walsh

WOODSTOCK — A second legal attempt to stop the decision to rename two Shenandoah County public schools was dismissed with prejudice Friday morning.

Judge Kevin Black sustained a demurrer filed by the Shenandoah County School Board that stated there was no legal standing for the petition challenging the reallocation of School Board funds for the name changes.

“I understand your argument, but I don’t think your argument has legs,” Black said. Dismissing the petition with prejudice means it is done so permanently.

The petition was filed by attorney Bradley Pollack, a member of the Board of Supervisors, on behalf of eight petitioners. The petition sought to have the reallocation reversed of the $300,000 spent to make the name changes.

A previous petition seeking to reverse the specific action last year by the School Board to retire the names of Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School because they were named after Confederate generals was dismissed in March.

But this latest petition specifically challenged the reallocation of the funds, Pollack argued.

As of July 1, the schools were renamed Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School, and the process of switching signs and decals with the new names has begun. The high school mascot will still be the Generals, and it will also be the new mascot for North Fork Middle School.

School Board attorney Lindsay Brubaker stated that the state constitution grants the board the exclusive power to manage and operate its funds, and approval from the Board of Supervisors was not needed.

“Just because there’s a difference of opinion, it doesn’t mean there was anything...illegal [done],” Brubaker said.

Under state statute 22.1-87, Pollack contended, the School Board broke policy and should have made the decision-making process more public. It also should have passed a budget amendment allowing for the reallocation of the funds.

“They didn’t follow their own rules,” Pollack stated.

But Black pointed to the example — of several possible ones he said — of a tornado damaging a school building. Going through a lengthy budget amendment process wouldn’t be needed to fix the damage.

Pollack further contended that a state Supreme Court case, McClary v. Jenkins, provided the grounds for a legal challenge by allowing taxpayers to challenge a local government’s decision.

But Black pushed back again, saying that if taxpayers were upset that the School Board purchased pencils when they wanted pens, by allowing a legal challenge on that choice would make the “jungle” of the court system more of a jungle.

Black also dismissed the petition with prejudice against Shenandoah County Treasurer Cindy A. George, who was named because she actually reallocated the funds. Her attorney, Shenandoah County Attorney Jason Ham, argued George hadn’t done anything wrong.

Black, a former defense attorney, had recused himself from the first petition since he had represented several of the plaintiffs, but in this case he had not seen any conflict.

The previous petition and a motion to have plaintiff attorneys pay for more than $50,000 in School Board legal fees in that case were both dismissed by Judge John Wetsel. A notice to appeal those decisions to the Virginia Supreme Court was filed.

A petition filed at the end of last year to remove former School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel, who held the position when the decision to change the school names was made, still has no scheduled hearings as of Friday afternoon.

“We’re just happy the judge sustained the demurrer — with prejudice,” said current School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Walsh after the hearing.

Pollack said after the hearing that he was unsure if he would appeal the decision, and that the decision came down to a difference in understanding the McClary vs. Jenkins case.

Contact Charles Paullin at cpaullin@nvdaily.com