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Quioccasin selected as new name for Byrd Middle School
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Quioccasin selected as new name for Byrd Middle School

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Quioccasin word cloud

In a 3-0 decision, the Henrico County School Board on Thursday chose Quioccasin Middle School as the new name for Harry F. Byrd Middle School.

Board member Lisa A. Marshall, who represents the Tuckahoe District, suggested the name during the board’s afternoon work session.

“Quioccasin is more than just a location or the name of the road on which Byrd sits,” she said.

Quioccasin, which is said to have been derived from a Native American word meaning “the gathering spot,” also lent its name to the historically black community centered on the area of the school, Quioccasin Baptist Church and the predecessor to what is now Pemberton Elementary School.

Thursday night’s decision was the culmination of a push beginning last summer to rename the school, which is currently named for the former governor and senator who espoused unrepentant views against desegregating schools.

Opponents of the Byrd name argued that a school nearly evenly divided between whites and minorities should not bear the name of someone who was against those students learning under the same roof.

Nearly 50 percent of the students at Byrd are minorities. Black students make up about 20 percent of the student population, while nearly 13 percent of students are Asian-American and about 11 percent are Hispanic.

While a U.S. senator, Byrd spearheaded Massive Resistance to combat the U.S. Supreme Court decision to integrate schools. Among the tactics used during this period was the closure of schools that attempted to integrate.

Byrd Middle School’s mascot is the Senators, and its logo includes the U.S. Capitol dome. Marshall suggested keeping the Senators mascot, but the board did not decide on that Thursday night.

The day before Byrd’s death 1966, the School Board voted to name Hermitage High School’s replacement for him. After outcry from the Hermitage community, the name was shifted to a proposed school eventually located at 9400 Quioccasin Road.

After a unanimous vote March 10 to rename the building, the School Board opened a public comment period and received more than 200 suggested names for the school. The names ranged from tributes to deceased Henrico residents to numbers and fictional characters.

Among the top choices were Alysia C. Burton Basmajian, a school system graduate who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; Lonnie E. Gailes, Byrd’s first principal; Neil Griffin, a school resource officer who died in March; former Superintendent William C. Bosher Jr.; and two members of the Vandervall family.

Benjamin Vandervall previously owned land included in the Byrd schoolyard. Before integration, Pemberton Elementary School, which is adjacent to Byrd, was named for Benjamin’s brother, educator William LeRoy Vandervall.

“There’s so many worthy suggestions in honor of individuals who ... contributed greatly to our community,” Marshall said during the work session. “It would be very difficult for me to pick between the individual names suggested.”

Board member John W. Montgomery, who seconded the motion, agreed with the difficulty of picking one person.

“It was very compelling to hear from the families,” Montgomery said.

Board member Roscoe D. Cooper III spoke in favor of naming the school for the Vandervall family as a way to right some of the wrongs from naming the middle school for Byrd. He abstained during the vote. School Board Chairwoman Michelle F. “Micky” Ogburn was not present.

Henrico schools officials estimated a $13,000 price tag to replace essential items carrying Byrd’s name, such as signs and scoreboards, stationery and the rug in the school’s entrance. Athletic gear and other items will be replaced as they wear out, officials said, but some of the name-change proponents have begun to collect money to cover some replacement costs, officials said.

The total cost to replace everything bearing Byrd’s name was estimated to be $136,000, but Al Ciarochi, assistant superintendent for operations for Henrico schools he is working with the school’s staff to find ways to reduce that cost and accelerate the process.

Ciarochi said he expects to present several concepts to the board at its next meeting.

The Quioccasin name officially goes into effect July 1.

erobinson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6861

Twitter: @ERobinsonRTD

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