Five teens charged with defacing a historic Virginia school that once served African-American children have been ordered to learn lessons about racial and religious discrimination as punishment for their crime.
The boys, who are all 16 and 17 years old, were ordered to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum at the nation’s capital and the “The Day of Remembrance: The 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066” exhibit at the American History Museum, LoudounNow reported. The teens also will be required to do book reports on literary works by Black, Jewish and Afghan authors for the next 12 months.
The teens pleaded guilty on Thursday, Feb. 2, to vandalizing the exterior of the 125-year-old Ashburn Colored School with racist graffiti and phallic symbols last year. The graffiti featured images of swastikas, as well as references to white power. Authorities said one of the teens also spray-painted the words “brown power” on the side of the building.
State prosecutors said they don’t believe the crime was race related, as three of the boys are minorities. None of the teens have been in trouble before.
In addition to the national museum visits and book reports, the boys also were required to write a research paper explaining the message(s) that swastikas and white-power symbols spray-painted on historically Black schools and churches send to the Black community and other minority groups, according to LoudounNow. The paper must include references to the history behind Ku Klux Klan lynchings, the Nazi “final solution and the Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education court decisions.
“It really seemed to be a teachable moment. None of them seemed to appreciate — until all of this blew up in the newspapers — the seriousness of what they had done,” Loudoun County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Rueda said. “So, it really seemed to be an opportunity to teach them about race, religion, discrimination, all of those things.”
Rueda also touched on the motive behind the vandalism, saying that the teens targeted the building because it’s now owned by the Loudoun School for the Gifted, and one boy had left the private school on bad terms. For years, the school and community supporters have been working to restore the aged one-room schoolhouse, but the teens’ crime slowed down their efforts.
Soon after the vandalism gained national attention, however, Atlanta Black Star reported that over 300 volunteers chipped in to give the one-room school a fresh coat of paint, scrub years of mold off the classroom’s baseboards and spread fresh mulch in the front yard. The school also received over $64,000 in new contributions toward its continued renovation.
“It shows love — love by everyone who has made this possible,” 84-year-old Yvonne Thornton Neal, who attended the historic school with her 14 siblings, said in October when volunteers showed up to help with the school’s restoration. “It’s just unbelievable. It shows we are still so loved by so many people.”
Deep Sran, the founder and educational lead at Loudoun School for the Gifted, recommended that the teen vandals also be required to listen to a recorded interview of Neal detailing her experiences at the Ashburn Colored School, LoudounNow reported. She attended the school from 1938 to 1945.
“We thought it was a good idea for them to have an understanding of why this community would react the way they did, and make a connection with the people who were most hurt by it — the former students,” Sran said.
The teens’ cases are scheduled to be reviewed by a judge next January.