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Alumni Fight Removal of Confederate General From School Name

While Virginia state courts were closed Friday in honor of Lee-Jackson Day, an alumni group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the removal of one of those Confederate generals from their high school’s name.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) –While Virginia state courts were closed Friday in honor of Lee-Jackson Day, an alumni group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the removal of one of those Confederate generals from their high school’s name.

In a 48-page complaint filed Friday morning in Alexandria federal court, the Washington-Lee High School Alumni Association claims the Arlington County School Board violated its own policies when it renamed the school early last year to remove General Robert E. Lee’s last name.

Located in the affluent Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Washington-Lee High School became Washington-Liberty High School after the board heard from the community and historical groups.

But the alumni group alleges the board “actively deceived their constituents… in order to deprive them of their opportunity to comment on changes that would greatly harm their educational reputations.”

“Defendants repeatedly and falsely promised their constituents that there would be a lengthy comment period later in the year where members of the public could weigh in on whether the school’s name should be changed,” the complaint states. “Then, instead of providing the promised comment period, defendants suddenly and without warning made the decision to change the school’s name.”

The alumni group, which was unavailable for comment Friday, is represented by Thomas M. Dunlap with the Vienna, Va.-based Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said he was unaware of the suit when reached for comment, but he confirmed the name change took effect last year.

Friday’s filing falls on Lee-Jackson Day, a Virginia state holiday recognized by the General Assembly since 1889. It honors Lee and fellow Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who both lead the failed southern effort to secede from the union during the Civil War.

The holiday was joined with Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1987, but in 2000 state legislators split it up again to be celebrated the Friday before MLK Day.

All state courts, including the Virginia Supreme Court, are closed for Lee-Jackson Day. Some city governments are closed as well. School boards can decide to close or remain open for the day. Bellavia said Arlington County schools were open Friday.

Much like efforts to removal Confederate monuments across Virginia, civil rights activists argue Lee-Jackson Day is a remnant of a dark time in state history involving slavery and oppression rather than a point of pride.

A legislative effort to remove the holiday from the state calendar is underway. While similar bills have been pushed in the past, the state’s new Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers could be more sympathetic to the idea than their Republican predecessors.

The Washington-Lee High School Alumni Association is asking a federal judge to void the school’s name change and issue an injunction blocking any future attempts to rename it.

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