School Board partially agrees to code of conduct Tuesday night

School Board discussion swirled around the Virginia School Board Association’s code of conduct and Rawls Byrd Elementary School’s potential new name Tuesday night.

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board members passed VBSA’s code of conduct at their meeting Tuesday night — with one edit.

The discussion started at the board’s Jan. 3 meeting, with Lisa Ownby (JCC Powhatan) bringing up line item nine.

It reads, “I will refrain from using the board position for personal or partisan gain and avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety.”

Ownby brought the matter up again Tuesday before the board voted to sign or not sign the document.

“This says to me, as a board member, that I should not hold a leadership position in a local political party, be beholden to any political party, make board decisions based on political party platforms or agendas, actively campaign as a partisan or campaign in a partisan way against other school board members,” Ownby said.

Ownby, who won her seat on the board last November, said after the Jan. 3 meeting that her election experience was part of the reason she decided to publicly highlight the line of the code.

Sandra Young (JCC Berkeley) said she disagrees with that line because it goes against rights granted by the first amendment. Young is also the president of a local partisan group, the Jamestown Heritage Republican Women.

“I will be signing the petition, but I will be exempting myself from number nine,” Young said.

After Young spoke, Ownby added that the code of Virginia calls for school board members to be independent of political parties.

Young did agree to sign the document in its entirety January 2016.

When the votes came around Tuesday, Ownby, Jim Kelly (JCC Jamestown), Julie Hummel (Williamsburg), Holly Taylor (JCC Stonehouse) and Kyra Cook (Williamsburg) agreed to sign the document as is. Jim Beers (JCC Roberts) was absent from the meeting.

Cook said she’s not sure how Young’s edit will work; members usually sign one document that bears all seven signatures. School Board clerk Janet Cerza said they are slated to physically sign it on Jan. 23.

The other agenda item with much discussion was a committee presentation on potential new names for Rawls Byrd Elementary School.

Rawls Byrd was a WJCC Superintendent who actively opposed integration, activists say. That’s why a former student, Lafayette Jones, worked to push through the name change last spring. The board voted to change the name in May, all that has left to be decided is what the new name will be.

The Rawls Byrd renaming committee presented three recommended options: Sarah G. B. Jones, Glasshouse and Laurel Lane.

A list of names were developed by students at the school, then the schools got community input through an online survey. Felicia Highland said there were more than 1000 votes for the school-generated names. 

Sarah Garland Boyd Jones was the first African-American woman to pass the Virginia Medical Board's exam in 1893.

“She exhibited many of the character traits we would like to see in our 21st century students,” Karen Mason said.
The second suggestion is Glasshouse Elementary, named after the structure at historic Jamestown where glass was created, one of the first attempted industries in the new world.

Laurel Lane also made the list; it’s the street on which the school sits. Rawls Byrd parent Jamie Bell said his third grader likes it, “it rolls off the tongue.”

Principal Karen Swann said the mascot, a penguin, will remain through the name change.

Board chairwoman Kyra Cook (Williamsburg) said the board would likely discuss the options at their Feb. 7 work session and vote on it at the Feb. 21 regular meeting.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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