Fort Bend ISD plans to reinter the “Sugar Land 95” without judicial oversight or involvement, following an opinion issued by an appellate court.
On Oct. 3, a three-judge panel with the First Court of Appeals sided with the school district, saying it had the right to dismiss its 2018 suit that sought approval from a state district court to move the human remains it discovered while constructing a new building. The appellate court also agreed with FBISD that the district court “abused its discretion” when it did not dismiss the one-party proceeding and instead appointed an attorney to oversee the case and another to represent the interests of the 95 African Americans whose remains were discovered, according to court documents.
The FBISD board voted Sept. 23 to move forward with a plan to reinter the remains. Those found in the abandoned cemetery are believed to have been part of Texas’ convict-leasing program that was in operation until 1911.
“We are grateful for the opinion of the appellate court that supports the actions taken by Fort Bend ISD,” FBISD Board President Jason Burdine said in a statement released by the district. “We look forward to memorializing and honoring the Sugar Land 95 with our community. … Crossing this hurdle now allows us to move forward to finalizing our ongoing negotiations with the county regarding the future conveyance of the land.”
With the backing of school district and Fort Bend County officials, a state law was amended earlier this year to allow the county to operate a cemetery. FBISD announced in July that it had reached an agreement to convey the land to the county and pay the county $1 million to help cover costs associated with reinterring the remains.
But since pulling that monetary offer, negotiations with the county have stalled, with the main contention point being court oversight in reinterring the remains. The county has long wanted judicial involvement, but FBISD has said such action would be more costly to taxpayers.
County Judge KP George declined comment.
FBISD has enlisted a Missouri City funeral home for a memorial service to honor the Sugar Land 95, which has not been scheduled. The remains will be reinterred to the same locations they were discovered at the James Reese Career and Technical Center in 2018, according to the district.