New guidelines proposed on gravesites found in Pr. William County

This photo shows the area of the new Prince William County high school after it was cleared and the graves were found. Forest and plants in the background previously covered the entire area. (Prince William County Public Schools)

WASHINGTON – Months after graves were found on the future site of a new high school in Prince William County, two county supervisors are calling for new rules about dealing with previously undocumented gravesites.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the county board of supervisors, and Supervisor Marty Nohe, say there needs to be more public involvement and examination when an unmarked grave is found in the county.

While they acknowledge the school district followed state procedure, they believe there should be a more open process.

“In (the) future should any grave be identified it will immediately be brought to the county’s historic commission attention and to the broader public for review,” Corey says. “It’s clear there needs to be a more public process, more public examination.”

The county is currently working with a family who stepped forward this week. The Lynn family once owned the land the school district is building on.

“We think the remains were part of the Lynn family … I have been in contact with the family. Naturally they’re very concerned,” Stewart says. reports “the Lynn family has deep roots in Prince William County, dating back to the 1750s.”

The school district, in following state guidelines, has exhumed the graves and plans to reinter the remains. Prior to doing so, there will be a public comment period, the school district says.

“We believe we did follow a process and we’re going to do our best to treat everything that is found with dignity and respect,” says Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Steven Walts.

“The school division has a long reputation of being very sensitive to these kinds of matters. In fact, we have several school sites where the same thing was discovered and where we have protected them and built around them. In all other cases, those graves were discovered in a timely fashion that allowed us to be able to do that,” he says.

Redesigning the new high school around the graves would have cost between $6 and 10 million and delayed the opening date by a year, says David Cline, assistant superintendent for finance and support services with the school system.

The graves were discovered this summer, while survey crews were cutting back thick vegetation on the site of the future high school.

School officials did conduct a 2008 archeology study, but because of the dense vegetation, portions of the land were not surveyed and documented.

The new school is slated to be completed in 2016 and will be the 12th for Prince William County.

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WTOP’s Kathy Stewart contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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