“It’s been two years!” shouted Mr. Helsley, sitting in his work clothes at a local V.F.W. post on the eve of Thursday’s vote. A fourth-generation dairy farmer and former middle school science teacher, Mr. Helsley was the “no” vote in 2020. He has nothing good to say about that decision-making process, calling it the worst course of action the board had ever taken.

“The name was there for 60 years, they took it down in two weeks,” he said. They should have engaged with the public, he said, come up with a protocol, at least slowed it down. “Empathy!” he cried. “They showed none.”

With the election of the new board members, Mr. Helsley was seen as the deciding vote to bring Stonewall Jackson back. But once a hero to the people he calls “the right wingers,” he became a target when his current intentions were made clear. “Nothing good will come of putting it back,” he said. He raised the hypotheticals of a Black student teacher coming to the school or Black basketball players arriving for a game in the gym. How would they feel if Stonewall Jackson was brought back?

“Empathy!” he said again.

At the school board meeting on Thursday night, the public comments ran long as usual. Current students spoke, along with people who had graduated decades ago. Alumni from the Stonewall years praised the general as a local hero, “a symbol of American grit and determination,” as one board member described him. Others sermonized about democracy and the will of the people, accusing the previous board of sowing division where there was none.

“It’s the board’s responsibility to show these kids how democracy is supposed to work,” said Stuart Didiwack, who announced that his family had “lived, worked and paid taxes” in the county for 256 years. “Show them that the wishes of the majority are carried out by those they elected to represent them. If you vote against the wishes of the people you represent, you must be willing to live with the consequences.”

Cynthia Walsh, one of the two members remaining on the board who had voted for the change in 2020, said a key obligation of a school board was making sure all students felt welcome. She argued that sometimes that could take precedence over the will of parents. “Sometimes we have to make difficult and unpopular decisions on behalf of all of the students,” she said as the evening grew late. “If we are only ever going to listen to the majority, when does the minority ever get represented?”

Among the supporters of the original name change, a side that appeared to be outnumbered at Thursday’s meeting, were several Black graduates of Stonewall, from multiple decades. Some winced when white speakers said they had never heard anyone complain about the name; nobody heard, they said, because nobody asked.

“I went to Stonewall, graduated in 1968, I have not set foot back on that ground since then,” said Ann Keels, who had moved back to the county after 45 years away. “I did go by that school to see if the name was changed,” she said. “I took a picture of it.”

The board members gave their speeches, including Mr. Helsley, who broke down in tears. Then it was time for a vote.

“Motion ends in a 3-3 tie, so it is defeated,” Mr. Helsley announced. “OK, moving on.”

Everyone knew it was not over. There is a school board election next year. “The names will be restored,” one of the speakers said. “All we need is one seat.”

Ms. Steptoe, from the class of 1981, knew this was probably true. But she said it would be better than if the name had never changed at all. She had never thought this was possible, not in Shenandoah County, she said, and here it had happened. “Even if only for a minute,” she said.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<