School Board votes ‘Laurel Lane Elementary’ to replace Rawls Byrd

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A possible first draft of Laurel Lane Elementary School's new logo was presented during Tuesday night's School Board meeting. (Courtesy WJCC Schools)
A possible first draft of Laurel Lane Elementary School’s new logo was presented during Tuesday night’s School Board meeting. (Courtesy WJCC Schools)

It’s official: The new name of Rawls Byrd Elementary will be Laurel Lane Elementary School starting July 1.

Members of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to change the name of Rawls Byrd to Laurel Lane, according to video footage of the meeting.

Despite the name change, the penguin mascot gets to stay.

“As long as we affirm the penguin, we’re great,” member Jim Kelly, Jamestown-JCC, said.

On Feb. 7, the School Board discussed three names that had been proposed in January by the Rawls Byrd Renaming Committee, which included Glasshouse Elementary, Sarah G. B. Jones Elementary and Laurel Lane Elementary.

“Laurel Lane, it just rolls off the tongue,” board member Lisa Ownby said at a Feb. 7 meeting.

The school will be named for the road the school is located on, although there is a symbolic significance to laurel, parent Jamie Bell said at a Jan. 17 School Board meeting. Laurel is used today in some ceremonies to symbolize victory and triumph, Bell said.

The school, which opened in 1965 and is located at 112 Laurel Lane in Williamsburg, is named after former WJCC Schools superintendent, Rawls Byrd. Byrd served as superintendent from 1924 to 1968, and is recalled as a vocal segregationist who kept WJCC Schools separated by race for 10 years after the Supreme Court declared racial segregation unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

On May 25, the School Board voted 6-0, with then-chair Jim Kelly abstaining from voting, to begin the process of renaming the school.

The School Board adopted its first ever policy for naming schools during its July 12, 2016 meeting. The policy permits future schools to be named only for individuals who have been deceased for more than 10 years.

In early November, the School Board released a survey offering eight choices for the new name, all of which were developed by current Rawls Byrd students. The survey had over 1,800 responses, 800 of which were write-in names, Renaming Committee member Felicia Highland said at a Jan. 17 School Board meeting.

There was little discussion around the vote at the meeting, and the transition to the name Laurel Lane Elementary will start July 1.

WYDaily archives were used in this story.