Staunton Residents, Alumni Weigh-In on Robert E. Lee High School Name Change
Staunton residents who spoke on Tuesday were split on the board’s decision, but almost all of them had an opinion.
STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) - On Monday, the Staunton School Board voted 4-2 to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School. Now, members of the Staunton community are weighing in on the controversial decision.
The Confederate general’s namesake first caused controversy because of race issues surrounding the legacy of the Civil War. Highway names, statues, and other school named after Confederate leaders have come under pressure in recent years.
On Tuesday, NBC29 spoke with residents in downtown Staunton. They were split on the board’s decision, but almost all of them had an opinion.
“It doesn’t need to be a person that is a very problematic figure in the history of an already problematic country,” said Staunton resident Josh Williams. “I think it is probably about time for those kinds of things to be put aside.”
Fellow Staunton resident Sam Dunham did not see a problem with the name, which has been in place for more than a century.
“I would have voted to keep it if it were me, personally,” said Dunham, who said he was named after Confederate general Jubal Early. “Would it be recommended that I change my name?”
Alumni of Robert E. Lee High School also weighed in on the matter, giving their perspective as both a student and now as residents.
“To me, it’s a tradition and I think they should keep the name,” said Lee High School graduate Carol Cheek, who has lived in Staunton her whole life. “My mom went, my kids went, and some of my grandkids went and I just think you have to leave it how it is.”
Chance Houff, another graduate of Robert E. Lee High School felt indifferent on the name change, but understood that some might be hurt by it.
“It’s just a name. It’s just history,” Houff said. “We never really cared about the name. We never thought that it was a bad thing or had any negative emotion to it, but some people do.”
The high school is also slated for construction in the near future. At Monday night’s meeting, board members discussed the possibility of adding a section in the new building dedicated to sharing the school’s full history.
All four board members who voted in favor of the name change are newly elected to the school board.
The school system is seeking public input to help decide the new name of the school. An online survey was posted on Tuesday where community members can suggest new names. Some early suggestions include Staunton High School or Shenandoah Valley High School.
Ultimately, it will be the board’s decision on what the new name will be. The board is expected to make the decision on the new name at its next meeting in November.