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Lee-Jackson Day will no longer be listed as a holiday by Albemarle County schools
Albemarle County has concluded one debate about Confederate symbols in public schools. Following parent protests, Lee-Jackson Day will not appear in future school calendars.
This year, the state holiday celebrating Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson fell on Jan. 12.
The leaders of the parent-led campaign said they were shocked to see the holiday on the school calendar following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
“A parent, who knows me very well, flipped the calendar in January for the new year and literally almost fell out of her chair,” said Amanda Moxham, a parent of two children in Albemarle public schools.
Moxham and other parents coordinated an email campaign and began attending School Board meetings in early January. The board’s response, the parents felt, was tepid. Then on Feb. 8, Deputy Superintendent Matt Haas began the School Board meeting with an announcement.
“We do not believe it is in the best interests of our entire school community to list Lee-Jackson Day as a time for celebration,” Haas said in a statement.
Haas said Aug. 12 has changed the community, and the calendar should reflect that.
“This is one of those areas where you get into a routine,” Haas said. “If the calendar were published after Aug. 12, I just know for a fact that staff would have come down the hall and said, ‘Would we want to address this because of the terrible incidents our community experienced?’”
Charlottesville faced a similar decision in 2015. Unlike Albemarle, the city recognized Lee-Jackson Day as a paid holiday.
“What City Council chose to do was to not make that one of the days off for city employees,” said Charlene Green, manager of Charlottesville’s Office of Human Rights. “They actually changed it to Veterans Day. Employees still got the same number of days off; it was just changed to a different day.”
Green worked as the equity and diversity specialist for the county schools from 2000 to 2007. During that time, she helped to add holidays to the school calendar.
“I don’t remember any pushback,” Green said. “If a school did anything specific around any of those holidays, it was because they had children in their schools that celebrated those particular holidays.”
“For the folks who recognized Lee-Jackson Day, it was just on the calendar as a point of information. It wasn’t celebrated with any particular programming — definitely not any programming that was organized out of my office,” Green said.
Green cannot remember any Lee-Jackson Day celebrations, except from 1983 to 2000 for Lee-Jackson-King Day, a joint holiday honoring the two Confederate generals and Martin Luther King Jr.
With what I do with organizational culture, the symbols have to be the first things to go, because the symbols are the visible piece.
Amanda Moxham, Albemarle County parent
But for Moxham and fellow Albemarle County parent Lara Rogers, the decision was not entirely comforting.
“I always go back to the ‘what’ versus the ‘how.’ The ‘what’ was great: now Lee-Jackson Day is off the calendar,” Moxham said. “However, how they went about it was very covert, lacked transparency and follow-through and does not make a strong statement.”
“The messaging is just as important,” Rogers added. “They can’t try to do these things under [the radar], because they’re afraid of pushback from neo-Confederates.”
At the Feb. 8 School Board meeting, Rogers ended her public comment with a moment of silence.
“I would like to stand at the podium while each of you reflects on why you couldn’t make eye contact with me at the last meeting and why it’s taken you so long to protect our children,” she said.
Board member Stephen Koleszar objected.
“Whether we take action or we don’t take action, we always consider the issues that people bring up in our decisions,” Koleszar said. He declined to comment on Lee-Jackson Day, saying he is still deciding his personal position on the issue.
Katrina Callsen, who was elected to the School Board in 2017, said that fewer parents emailed the School Board in opposition to the change than those who supported it.
“There have been a few emails [against the change] — a handful,” Callsen said. “I don’t think it was a rash decision. I really trust Matt [Haas] and think they did a really good job of reaching out to the community.”
Rogers and Moxham want to next tackle the system’s dress code policy on Confederate imagery. Moxham, a consultant for companies wanting to change their workplace culture, said symbols are meaningful.
“With what I do with organizational culture, the symbols have to be the first things to go, because the symbols are the visible piece,” Moxham said. “We’re so comfortable sending girls home, and yet we’re not willing to say that you can’t wear a shirt that says, ‘The South will rise again,’ which basically means, ‘We will implement slavery again.’”
“I need my kids to be able to know that they’re safe at school. As long as there’s a School Board that is comfortable accepting systemic racism, that’s a problem. We need action. We need courage and bravery from them,” Moxham said.
Koleszar said students generally do feel safe at school. He said that at Monticello High School, “You can have a student wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and another wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Black Lives Matter’ working on a project together, liking each other as friends.”
Some school divisions in other states have banned the Confederate flag from student clothing, but Albemarle is unlikely to alter its dress code.
In 2003, Albemarle lost a $150,000 lawsuit to a sixth-grader who wanted to wear a National Rifle Association T-shirt to class. The shirt in question included silhouettes pointing guns across the NRA lettering.
“That’s a big lesson learned. We do not have legal authority to tell students that you cannot wear a shirt that has a Confederate flag on it anymore than we can tell students they cannot wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt,” Haas said. “We get complaints from all sides.”
As long as the student is not using the shirt to intentionally harass or bully other students, administrators lean toward conversation over confrontation.
“Most people don’t want to offend anyone else; it’s not what they get out of bed trying to do. If it’s pointed out that someone had a negative reaction, we talk with them and with their parents,” Haas said.
Green remembers similar conversations happening during her time with the Albemarle County schools. In the early 2000s, the controversy involved rainbow triangles, which counselors placed outside their doors to mark their rooms as safe spaces for LGBTQ students.
“The School Board was very supportive of the triangles because they wanted students to feel comfortable going to their counselors,” Green said. “It was just a matter of educating the folks who had the assumption that triangles meant teaching kids how to be gay. Some people still didn’t accept that, but most people, once they understood that it was all about safety, then it was fine.”