HENRICO COUNTY, Va. – After months of discussion among students, parents and Henrico school leaders, the Henrico School Board will officially take public comments about changing the name of Harry F. Byrd Middle School. The West End school is named after the former United States Senator and Virginia Governor who, among other things, fought to keep Virginia schools segregated.
“Besides a fiscally conservative ‘pay-as-you-go’ policy of public funding, Byrd is also associated with his leadership of Massive Resistance,” Henrico County Public Schools spokesperson Andy Jenks stated. “The term refers to Virginia’s strategy of opposition to federally mandated integration of public schools in the 1950s and 1960s, which resulted in some schools closing.”
When Byrd Middle opened in 1971, Harry F. Byrd’s son, Harry Jr., voiced his displeasure with the school being integrated.
The Henrico School Board scheduled two public input sessions on the matter. The first will be Wednesday, March 2, from 7 to 9 p.m. at New Bridge Learning Center and the second will be Tuesday, March 8, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Harry F. Byrd Middle School.
At a school board meeting earlier this year, students expressed their concerns with keeping the name. Joseph Chambers, Byrd Middle sixth grader, said the former politician would not have wanted him at the school.
“In fact, he wouldn’t want me to have any opportunities at all because he wouldn’t want my parents to have the opportunity to get married and have me,” Chambers said.
Students from other schools, such as Hermitage High School junior Emily Voorhis, also spoke on the matter.
“We just think it’s ridiculous he got an educational facility named after him when he sought to deny education to thousands and thousands of black children,” she said.
With the upcoming sessions to discuss the name change approaching, members of the public who want to comment are asked to reserve a spot by contacting the clerk of the school board Sue Largen at 804-652-3808 or via email. Each speaker will have up to three minutes. Comment cards will also be available at the sessions and people will also be able to comment online.
More than 200 people have also liked a Facebook page dedicated to changing the school’s name.