PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - The Petersburg School Board voted Wednesday to rename three elementary schools currently named after Confederate leaders.
School officials will now change the names of A.P. Hill, J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee elementary schools, effective July 1:
- Cool Spring replaces A.P. Hill
- Lakemont replaces Robert E. Lee
- Pleasants Lane replaces J.E.B. Stuart
"We can look back at the images, the stories of people hung up on trees, KKK rallies, the burning down of buildings and lynchings and so on and so forth, and I think that connotation and rhetoric carries itself with everything that happened in the South," said high school junior Jason Brown.
"If you keep the names the way they are, you can tell the kids why the schools are named after these people. You can tell them the many great traits of General Lee and Hill and Stuart. It was General Lee and Hill that were trying to stop the bombs from coming in to Petersburg," said Travis Toombs, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The school board listened to all these concerns, and after weeks, formed their own opinion.
"When we say we want to remember someone, just be reminded we can do that in other ways...like creating a bust or a statue and putting it somewhere where everyone can see it," said school board member Steven Pierce.
Some residents questioned if the decision was already made, after a Henrico woman donated $20,000 to get rid of the Confederate names. That puts the district well over the $18,000 it says it will cost to change the names.
"I believe Petersburg Schools has more important things to worry about," said Toombs. "Effectively, they need to get their priorities straight."
"The district's priority is improving academic achievement," said school spokesperson Leigh Ann McKelway. "That focus is in no way changed by consideration of changing names of schools."
"If I were to be a Jewish student and I went to Adolf Hitler elementary school, it definitely wouldn't make sense for me to support a name like that," said Brown.
The issue brought about a heated debate last month at a public forum about the school names. At one point, tensions flared when some in the crowd were upset Confederate supporters who aren't local were there to weigh in - saying the name change is a waste of money.
Other schools in Richmond and surrounding districts also have schools named to honor Civil War-era leaders. In Hanover, a group is calling on the School Board to change the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School, while a counter-petition has circulated in support of the Lee-Davis name.
Copyright 2018 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.