Board to discuss Rawls Byrd renaming at next meeting

WILLIAMSBURG- A grass-roots initiative to change the name of Rawls Byrd Elementary School picked up major traction on Tuesday night. 

Williamsburg-James City County School Board Chair Jim Kelly asked Superintendent Steve Constantino to be prepared to discuss the process of changing the school's name at the Board's next meeting on May 24.

And several Board members went on record at the end of the meeting to say they supported changing the name. 

Rawls Byrd is the former superintendent of the WJCC system and oversaw the merger of the city and county systems.

Although Byrd’s comments in the historical record for the time do not reflect bias, several students who attended Bruton Heights – the school for blacks during the segregation era – have come forward to speak out about Byrd’s segregationist mindset and disregard for the black community.

At the Board's last meeting on April 19, nearly 20 members of the local NAACP chapter stood in support of changing the name. At Tuesday night's work session, five of the six speakers during the citizen comment period spoke about the need to change the name. 

Pointing out the high minority population at Rawls Byrd Elementary, Arvin Alaigh, a 2015 graduate from the College of William and Mary, said, “Is there not something twistedly ironic to name a school after Rawls Byrd?”

Edith Heard, a former student at Bruton Heights when Byrd was superintendent, said the group leading the effort to change the name  formally requested for the Board to address the issue at the May 24 meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Kelly said, "I think it is time to have that discussion. Probably past time."

McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.

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