School Board to Discuss Rawls Byrd ES Name Change at May 24 Meeting

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Lois Hornsby, a retired educator and the namesake of Hornsby Middle School, shares her experience with Rawls Byrd during the May 10, 2016 WJCC School Board meeting. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)
Lois Hornsby, a retired educator and the namesake of Hornsby Middle School, shares her experience with Rawls Byrd during the May 10, 2016 WJCC School Board meeting. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)

Williamsburg-James City County School Board Chairman Jim Kelly (Jamestown) asked Superintendent Steven Constantino to prepare a discussion item for the board’s May 24 meeting regarding the renaming Rawls Byrd Elementary School.

During Board member comments Tuesday night, Kelly confirmed with Constantino that the school division has already begun looking into the policies and procedures related to changing the name of a school.

Constantino said he would have an agenda item ready for the Board’s next meeting.

“I think it’s time to have that discussion,” Kelly said.

A campaign to change the name has been organized by Lafayette Jones and Edith “Cookie” Heard, who both graduated from the Bruton Heights School in the 1960s when the school division was still segregated and while Rawls Byrd was still superintendent. Black high school students attended Bruton Heights; white students attended James Blair High School.

Jones, Heard and other former students have testified to threats made by Byrd and the segregationist views he expressed during his tenure as superintendent.

The schools were not desegregated until 1964 – the year Byrd retired and 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in “Brown v. Board of Education” that deemed segregation unconstitutional – leading some name change advocates to consider Byrd a criminal.

Five of the six speakers – including Lois Hornsby, a former educator and the namesake of Hornsby Middle School – during Tuesday’s public comment period talked about the campaign to change the name and asked the School Board to take up the issue.

(WJCC Schools)
(WJCC Schools)

After Heard requested the School Board put the item on its May 24 agenda, Hornsby approached the podium and recalled her interaction with Byrd.

She said he was her neighbor, but said she did not know he “said such rude things to people.”

“He just didn’t believe in desegregation,” Hornsby said. “I did know he didn’t want to remain superintendent of a desegregated school system.”

In addition to Heard and Hornsby, speakers included a recent William & Mary graduate, a Rawls Byrd Elementary School parent, and a member of the Williamsburg Boulé of the African American Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.

Board Parliamentarian Jim Beers (Roberts) said he would support changing the name but would like to see a comprehensive policy put into place for future name changes. Board member Holly Taylor (Stonehouse) also said she would support the change but wanted to ensure the financial impact of changing the name would be considered.

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