The Fort Bend ISD board of trustees approved an agreement during a June 17 meeting to transfer to Fort Bend County ownership of the historic abandoned cemetery discovered at the district’s James Reese Career and Technical Center construction site early last year.
The decision comes after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 4179, authored by Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, into law June 7, allowing Fort Bend County to own, operate and maintain a cemetery. The bill was filed in response to the discovery of the Sugar Land 95—the historic remains of 95 people, who would have been part of the Convict Labor Leasing system in the late 1800s, discovered at the construction site.
With the passage of HB 4179, the county could purchase the cemetery portion of the school’s land, or the district could donate the land to the county, said Taral Patel, county Judge KP George’s chief of staff, in an email.
“As negotiations continue, this detail will be hammered out to ensure a good resolution for all parties,” Patel said.
The James Reese Career and Technical Center will open along with the rest of the district on the first day of school Aug. 14, said Amanda Bubela, FBISD’s assistant director of media and external relations. All 684 spots for enrollment were filled in time for the school’s opening, Bubela said.
“The CTE center ... will be open for the 2019-20 school year,” Bubela said in an email. “Work on exterior landscaping and unoccupied sections of the building, not required on day one, will continue outside of the school day.”
District and county officials remain in negotiations for next steps regarding reburial of the remains. The Sugar Land 95 have been exhumed and housed at the site for one year.
“We are working diligently with all parties to reach a quick, yet well-thought-out and amicable resolution to all that ultimately respects the lives of those lost here,” George said. “We are able to continue with our negotiations due to the Texas Legislature passing this important legislation.”
Although a quick and honorable reburial is a priority for district and county officials, taking the time to do DNA testing in an effort to connect the Sugar Land 95 to any potential surviving lineage is not off the table, Patel said.
“We are working with the attorney general’s office for more information on the legal logistics required to do something like this and also discussing with private parties to help with the funding,” he said. “There is significant interest from many private sources on donating money to support this kind of effort.”
As the process inches closer toward laying the historical remains to rest, Bubela said the district will continue working with the county on a memorialization plan.