In Hanover

Pro­test­ers seek school re­nam­ings, racism end.

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY KENYA HUNTER Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch khunter@timesdis­patch.com (804) 649-6948

RICH­MOND TIMES-DIS­PATCH

About 100 Hanover County stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers protested out­side a School Board meet­ing Tues­day, say­ing racism is present in the school sys­tem’s cul­ture and de­mand­ing new names for Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jack­son Mid­dle School as the board met in closed ses­sion to dis­cuss a law­suit over the school names.

In May, a judge dis­missed the Hanover NAACP’s law­suit to change the name of the two schools, rul­ing it could not pro­ceed be­cause the statute of lim­i­ta­tions had ex­pired. Robert Barnette, the pres­i­dent of the group, said the NAACP is con­sid­er­ing an ap­peal.

The death of Ge­orge Floyd in Min­neapo­lis po­lice cus­tody ig­nited protests around the coun­try and a reck­on­ing in Rich­mond with Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols. The Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues on Mon­u­ment Av­enue are com­ing down while de­bate con­tin­ues on schools, streets and other pub­lic places named for those who fought to pre­serve slav­ery.

The School Board’s chair­man, John Axselle, said af­ter an hour­long closed ses­sion on the law­suit that the board will con­tinue to dis­cuss the suit in closed-door meet­ings. The board took no ac­tion on the names, but Axselle ad­dressed the un­rest hap­pen­ing across the coun­try on be­half of the board.

“We re­main united in our core be­liefs,” he said. “We be­lieve racism and ha­tred have no place in our schools.”

All of the pub­lic com­ments at the virtual board meet­ing on Tues­day were about racism in Hanover schools or the re­nam­ing of the two schools. The clerk did not read the com­ments aloud.

“What is this ab­surd logic of pro­tect­ing the white su­prem­a­cist val­ues of the Ku Klux Klan?” Ali­cia Neumann, a Pear­son’s Cor­ner El­e­men­tary par­ent, said at the protest. “The Ku Klux Klan is a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. They sprung into ex­is­tence af­ter the Con­fed­er­acy lost the Civil War, and their mission is to ter­ror­ize black cit­i­zens to keep them from ex­er­cis­ing their right to vote. “

Fon­jenik Turner has two black chil­dren in the school sys­tem. She said she was ner­vous to speak at the protest out of fear that her chil­dren may be re­tal­i­ated against when school opens. But she said she wants to see the names of the schools changed, too.

She, along with oth­ers, also took is­sue with an email from Hanover High School’s prin­ci­pal, Kris Reece, sent on June 3.

The email, which was leaked on so­cial me­dia, re­minded teach­ers to “re­main neu­tral” on so­cial is­sues, which some in­ter­preted as a re­quest to stop post­ing about Floyd.

“I need to re­mind you that as em­ploy­ees and ed­u­ca­tors, you are to be mind­ful of post­ing on so­cial is­sues,” she said in the email. “Please re­mem­ber that we must re­main neu­tral so all stu­dents feel wel­come in our class and our build­ing.”

She later sent an apol­ogy to the staff.

“I care deeply about our stu­dents, fam­i­lies, and staff of color, and I wrote my mes­sage from a place of con­cern and com­pas­sion for our broader com­mu­nity,” she wrote. “I sin­cerely apol­o­gize if my mes­sage did not con­vey that.”

Pro­test­ers said there is a se­ri­ous prob­lem of racism in the county that must end.

One Hanover High School grad­u­ate, Kourt­ney Wil­son, said she made it a point to keep her hair straight like her white friends while she at­tended Hanover High School, and she of­ten felt like a “to­ken” black girl while in school. She said she wants to make sure that her sis­ter does not feel the same way when she be­gins at­tend­ing Hanover High this fall.

Wil­son said she wants to see the School Board mem­bers use their power to speak about racism. “You can­not be silent when it comes to racism. Black stu­dents do not feel safe, and enough is enough. Prayer­fully some­thing will change soon.”

MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Kourt­ney Wil­son (right, with sign) was one of about 100 pro­test­ers out­side Tues­day’s School Board meet­ing.

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