The Shenandoah County School Board decided Wednesday against creating a survey asking the public whether two school names should be changed back to their original names eponymous with Confederate generals.
Instead, the board will vote whether to restore the names at its 7 p.m. Thursday meeting.
The board held a special Wednesday afternoon meeting with the intention of finalizing a survey asking citizens whether Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School should once again be known as Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School.
The school board in 2020 made the change as part of a move to condemn racism and affirm the division's commitment to an inclusive school environment for all. Since then, however, new board members have been elected, and some county residents have pushed to restore the former names, citing the desire to remember the region's history.
Superintendent Melody Sheppard explained during Wednesday's meeting that officials at Hanover, the company that would help create and send out the survey, stated they would not feel comfortable fielding a survey on the topic.
Sheppard said there are two other organizations that could conduct a survey, but the cost ranges between $15,000-$20,000.
Sheppard also discussed the possibility of using polling machines at the voter registrar’s office but there were several logistical issues that would need to be worked through. The first opportunity for voting machines to be open would be in July but it would also be around the time of when planning takes place for the upcoming school year.
The board initially discussed limiting the survey residents of District 1 and 2, where the schools are located, but some board members wanted to expand it county-wide.
Board member Brandi Rutz noted that the naming of Signal Knob Middle School only involved the community it serves and not the whole county.
Board member Andrew Keller had concerns about the population of people participating in the survey.
“We can say this only affects districts 1 and 2, but I think that it’s inclusive of the entire county,” Keller said.
Keller added that he doesn’t particularly want to do a survey. “I just don’t know if a survey is going to be the tool that we want to use to make this decision,” Keller said. “It may be, but to me it’s a little bit bigger and broader than that.”
Rutz responded by saying, “We talk democracy and all these rounds of having folks weigh in, but we ignored it two years ago.”
Keller suggested that school board candidates run on the particular topic for the next election.
“All voters will be accounted for on making the decision,” Keller said.
Dennis Barlow responded to Keller saying that it would make no sense to delay even more. “I think the process was tainted the last time,” Barlow said. “I think giving people a chance now would only be right.”
Keller agreed with Barlow, saying that what happened in the May school board meeting when many people spoke out on the issue was what was needed in 2020.
Keller said the recent citizen comments, however, did not change his stance.
“I don’t know if anybody said anything that’s going to change your mind or mine,” he said.
Board member Cynthia Walsh said the school board in 2020 did what was best for students.
“No matter how much we talk about it, I’m not changing my mind on what we did because it was the right thing to do for students going forward,” she said.
Rutz asked if the division and bad feelings created by the name change was good for students.
“Whether you agree it was the right thing to do or not, it is done. We need to move forward now,” Walsh responded.
Board Member Kyle Gutshall questioned the survey's purpose if the board is not committing to the results one way or the other.
“It almost does throw out the whole point of the survey, which is unfortunate,” Gutshall said. “I think we should have a survey, but if that is not going to be valuable to some people then I don’t know what we’re doing at this point.”
Chairman Marty Helsley decided to hold another vote on whether there should be a survey regarding the names. Barlow, Gutshall, and Rutz — who were all elected this past November — voted to have a survey. Keller, Walsh and Helsley voted no on having a survey. Helsley ultimately made the decision to have no survey on the restoration of the school names. Helsley said he does not want to spend more tax dollars for a survey.