WOODSTOCK — Another petition has been filed challenging the Shenandoah County School Board’s decision to rename two schools.
In the latest petition, filed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on April 12, eight people are seeking to reverse a March 11 school board decision to reallocate about $300,000 from this year’s budget to rename Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School because the schools are named after Confederate generals.
“This is about standing up for them and standing up for what’s right,” said attorney Brad Pollack, adding that 75% to 80% of the county citizens do not want the names changed. Pollack, who is also on the county’s Board of Supervisors, filed the petition on behalf of the eight people. The petitioners are parents of children attending one of the two schools, the petition states.
The School Board’s decision to rename the schools was previously challenged by a petition signed by 145 people. That petition was dismissed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court in March by Judge John Wetsel.
Petitioners, in that case, had not met the legal standards of being “aggrieved” by the decision since they had no direct personal or property damage from the decision, Wetsel said.
During that hearing, lead counsel for that petition, attorney Robert Vaughn, attempted to amend the petition to include that the petitioners were aggrieved because money was being spent for the renaming. But Wetsel denied that amendment.
This petition, Pollack said by phone interview, is different because it more specifically addresses the issue of reallocating funds by including specific dollar amounts.
Pollack, in the petition, also argues that a state Supreme Court ruling in October — Michael V. MCClary, et al. v. Scott H. Jenkins, et al. — gives the petitioners standing to challenge expenditures by local governments, even when there is no particular injury separate from the public at large.
There is no provision in state code or the Shenandoah County School Board policy manual that allows for an amendment to this year’s budget, Pollack also argues. That, along with state code 22.1-87, which allows a School Board action to be sustained unless it has been found to exceed its authority, acted arbitrarily or capriciously or abused its discretion, also gives the case standing, Pollack said.
School board Chairwoman Cynthia Walsh said in an email Monday that it’s unfortunate that another petition has been filed to challenge the name changes, at a time when many achievements from this school year should be celebrated.
“This will not change our focus,” Walsh wrote.
This petition could bring more division in the community or be a distraction for school leaders, Walsh states.
It is unclear if the reallocation of funds for the school renamings must be put on hold because of the pending litigation, Pollack said. Pollack, who as a county supervisor wanted to give the School Board minimal funding for next year’s budget to make board members rethink their renaming action, said the reallocated funds must be spent by June 30, the last day of this fiscal year.
The renaming process should be be completed by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Walsh said.
The five-page petition lists Duane Stover, Kristen Gochenour, Laura Weaver, Rebecca Barrick, Erika Lam, David Lonas, Ashleigh Miller and Renee Ingrao as petitioners. It names the School Board and Shenandoah County Treasurer Cindy George, who is responsible for actually reallocating the funds, as respondents.
A trial by jury is demanded, the petition states.
George declined to comment because of the pending litigation.
In other legal action regarding the renamings, school board attorney Lindsay Brubaker filed on Thursday a notice to appeal to the state Supreme Court the denial of her motion seeking to have the school board’s legal costs covered by Vaughn and Pollack. In arguing that motion, Brubaker stated about $41,000 worth in legal fees had been spent as of March 4 on the first case challenging the School Board’s decision.
Also, as of Monday, no hearings in the petition to remove former School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel over, in part, her role in the renamings, have been scheduled, according to online Shenandoah County Circuit Court records. Whetzel filed a motion to dismiss that petition in January.