Petition created to change name of Turner Ashby High School

Petition created to change name of Turner Ashby High School
Turner Ashby High School (Source: WVIR)

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Over the weekend, amid a nationwide reckoning with racism after the murder of George Floyd, an online petition was created to change the name of Turner Ashby High School.

At Monday night’s Rockingham County School Board, a public comment was read expressing support for the name change, and by Tuesday the petition had gained more than 1,300 signatures.

“This is not the first time the name Turner Ashby has come up,” Dr. Oskar Scheikl, division superintendent, said. “The comment I made after the suggestion during the school board meeting last night was that we do have to recognize what’s going on and we’ve recognized this for a long time.”

The school was named after Confederate cavalry commander Turner Ashby when it was built in 1955, 90 years after the conclusion of the Civil War but during segregation and a surge of new Confederate monument construction around the U.S. At that time, it was at the current Wilbur S. Pence Middle School location, and it kept the name when the school moved to its current location in 1989.

Ashby was killed near Harrisonburg during Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign, and a monument marks the approximate spot of his death. This past weekend marked the 158th anniversary of his death.

Over the weekend, the petition, Change the name of Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater Va, was created on Change.org by Cate Phillips, a graduate of James Madison University.

Phillips said she got the idea after recent events around the country have transpired involving racial injustice and after a similar JMU petition was created to rename campus buildings.

“A JMU student was petitioning the names of Ashby, Maury, and Jackson Hall,” Phillips said. “Originally I wasn’t connecting them to Turner Ashby and then it reminded me, ‘Oh my gosh, we still have a high school in the area with that name.’”

Just a few days later, another petition was created, Leave Turner Ashby High Schools Name Alone! , on Change.org with more than 2,500 signatures by Kitty Biller and other alumni of Turner Ashby High School.

She said changing the name will not change the history of anything and if people want to make a change, they should start with a clean slate or build a new school.

“Why do they want to change the name, it’s a part of our history, it’s a part of our culture, it is racially diverse,” Biller said.

Dr. Scheikl said the school division has no plans on changing the school name as of right now. He said it’s a discussion the community would need to have before anything were to move forward.

“I’ve always said these topics need to be raised by students, they should be raised in the school community, and then a conversation needs to happen,” Dr. Schiekl said.

Phillips said after seeing large support for the name change, she is beginning to write papers to better educate the public on who Turner Ashby was.

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