The Loudoun County School Board plans to vote next week on whether to change Loudoun County High School’s mascot from the Raiders, a moniker with Confederate roots.
Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams proposed the potential renaming as part of a presentation during Tuesday’s board meeting. His presentation summarized the division’s plan to combat systemic racism and followed several weeks of worldwide racial tension.
Blue Ridge District Representative Ian Serotkin filled in other board members on the mascot’s history, saying it was inspired by a famous Civil War battalion led by Confederate commander John S. Mosby, often referred to as Mosby’s Raiders or Mosby’s Rangers.
“Noted for their lightning-strike raids on Union targets and their ability to consistently elude pursuit, the Rangers, or Raiders, disrupted Union communications and supply lines,” Serotkin said, paraphrasing a Wikipedia entry on Mosby.
The Raiders mascot was selected in 1954 by an all-white student body out of four potential options. According to Serotkin, the school’s emblem featured the Confederate flag before community protests resulted in its removal in 1979, and the mascot’s appearance has since been altered several times.
Two LCHS alumni who participated in the lengthy public comment section at the meeting’s opening expressed their wishes that the mascot be changed.
“Since the 1950s, Loudoun County has greatly changed: Our schools, swimming pools and movie theaters are now integrated; major population growth has brought new people here from many different places, of many different backgrounds, yet the LCHS mascot is still the Raiders,” said Andrew Jelonek, who according to his Facebook page graduated LCHS in 2010.
Jelonek continued, “No matter what modifications are made to it, the raiders will always stand for slavery, white supremacy and racism. We believe Loudoun County should no longer glorify this mascot and its ideals.”
“To be honest, upon learning [the mascot’s basis], it changed my perspective on the school,” 2009 graduate Deirdre Dillon added. “It caused me to look at it as something that was backwards, old-fashioned and, to be honest, racist. The mascot was decided way back in 1954, which many people would say was a different time, but it was still nearly 100 years after the Civil War.”
Mosby is also the namesake of Mosby Woods Elementary School in Fairfax, which Serotkin said Fairfax County Public Schools is moving forward with plans to rename. Further, a stretch of Route 50 that runs through much of Loudoun County is dubbed John S. Mosby Highway.
“I think we need to take action on this. I would call upon [Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan] to schedule a public hearing to get public input on this topic, and after that I think we would, as a board, need to lead and look into renaming the mascot for Loudoun County High School,” Serotkin concluded.
Sheridan (Sterling District) said some level of controversy around the Raiders mascot has been evident since she began serving on the School Board nearly a decade ago, and that she appreciated Williams’s and division staff’s commitment to take action on the long-debated matter.
“... I am going to say I’m excited to be a part of making those changes,” she said.
Though Sheridan suggested the possibility of suspending the rules Tuesday night so the board could immediately vote on whether to remove the mascot, Beth Barts (Leesburg District) advocated for making the potential change at a later date so the LCHS community has a greater opportunity to speak out.
However, Barts also opined the financial and logistical implications of such an action meant the board should come to a decision sooner than later, and that the division should commit to taking on the monetary burden that would likely come with removing Raider imagery from the school.
“We need to be very cognizant of the purchases of everything that will need to be done to make sure that that school does not bear the brunt of a choice that was made in 1954,” she said. “I’m not sure everyone realizes the extent that that Raider is integrated physically into that building — on walls, on uniforms … everywhere.”
Barts later added, “We’re looking at $1 million at least.”
Serotkin also opposed taking any immediate action Tuesday, arguing LCHS students, families, staff and alumni should be able to have their say on the matter.
“As strongly as I feel about this, I would be uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable, suspending the rules to vote on this tonight without giving any opportunity for public input prior to that sensitive vote taking place,” he said.
Ultimately, the board decided to bring the issue back as an action item for its June 29 meeting, during which LCPS community members will, as always, be able to sign up for public comment.
In the wake of recent racial tension, many southern localities, including Loudoun County, have reconsidered the presence of publicly-displayed Confederate imagery.
Tuesday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/432113742.