More than 100 parents banded together and filed a legal position to prevent the Shenandoah County School Board from moving forward with its decision to rename two schools and a mascot.
Brad Pollack, a local attorney and a member of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, filed the petition on behalf of the 140 parents arguing that the School Board failed, in several ways, to abide by its own rules and bylaws when it voted to rename Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School last month. The board also determined it would change the Rebels mascot at North Fork Middle School.
The petition argues that the adults — listed as parents, custodians or legal guardians of current students — are “aggrieved” at the board’s decision because they love the names of the schools and “changing them will cause great upset and discord in their homes, these schools, and the community.”
The petition does not clarify whether the petitioners are associated with the schools in question but rather states that they are related to students attending school within the county.
As the opening salvo, Pollack argued that because the School Board is using money granted by the county to fund construction projects at Stonewall Jackson and Ashby Lee, the county is a part-owner of the properties along with the School Board. Because the board did not receive permission from the county, Pollack argues that the School Board “exceeded its authority in purporting to change the names [of the schools].”
Financial obligations pairing the board and the county on the construction projects expire in April 2021 for Ashby Lee and in January 2025 for Stonewall Jackson, the petition notes.
Not only did the School Board not consult with the Board of Supervisors, Pollack argued, but the meeting where they decided to rename the schools was conducted online — with the express purpose of the meeting being to determine the fate of the names of the schools.
Earlier this year the School Board, along with countless other boards and authorities, changed the rules regarding public meetings to allow for members to participate remotely. The new rules allow the School Board to meet remotely but if there isn’t a physical quorum then the meeting must be to discuss the emergency stated in the governor’s statement of emergency order and because it is “impracticable or unsafe to assemble a quorum in a single location.”
The School Board did discuss COVID-19 and the schools reopening plan at the July 9 meeting.
Pollack argued that the board’s July 9 meeting when members decided to change the names of the schools violated the new rules because a physical quorum wasn’t present and the meeting was not to address the emergency.
The 10-page petition quotes the School Board’s rules at length, arguing that the board members did not do enough to get input from the community, did not submit recommendations for new names three weeks in advance and only allowed the community six days to comment on the proposed decision.
The School Board’s rules, as quoted in the petition, say that “[i]t is the responsibility of the Shenandoah County School Board to determine the name of schools, school facilities, and areas of school facilities or grounds in the division. The board will solicit and accept input from the public regarding the names of schools or school facilities but reserves the right to make the final decision regarding the name of any school or school facility.”
“In fulfilling this responsibility, the Board shall make every possible effort to respect the preference of the local school community,” the rules continue, “however, the final decisions on the naming of school facilities … shall rest entirely with the Board.”
The board’s rules allow for members to make a series of moves leading up to changing the name of a school including creating committees to work with the community to find out its interests.
According to the board’s rules, the board is allowed to rename schools or facilities “for a variety of reasons.” The rules include several options for ways to go about determining how and when to rename a school but the language is unclear about whether the board must include items such as recommendations or form committees prior to its decision.
The rules are clear that “in preparation for School Board action, the superintendent shall work in conjunction with the School Board member(s) from the affected district … to elicit community preferences and to establish procedures for reviewing community input.”
On several accounts, the petition argues that the School Board and superintendent failed to garner enough community input and provide enough time for feedback to act alone in deciding to rename the schools.
School Board Chairman Karen Whetzel did not have any comment on the petition on Tuesday.
Mark Johnston, the superintendent, wrote in an email Tuesday that he could not comment on the petition because nothing had been served.
Pollack filed the petition in the Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon.
The Shenandoah County Circuit Court has not announced when it will hear the petition.