The Calgary Board of Education passed a new renaming policy for schools at Tuesday’s board meeting.
It can be initiated by a trustee bringing forward a motion to review a school name, or if the public presents a petition with at least 5,000 signatures.
But, the new policy was not passed unanimously. Trustees Richard Hehr and Julie Hrdlicka said the 5,000 signatures required for a renaming petition to be considered by trustees was too high.
Instead, Hrdlicka suggested lowering the requirement to 1,000 signatures.
“I do think this is unreasonable and I believe the board is creating unnecessary barriers for this process to fairly occur,” she said.
Hrdlicka said marginalized communities are often the most likely to be impacted by the names on schools.
“Communities that already feel unheard are further marginalized when they see when these barriers, like 5,000 signatures required to change the name of a school,” she said.
“A school which they do not feel comfortable sending their children to because of the atrocities committed by the person whose name is on the school.”
5,000 signatures appropriate, argue trustees
Trustee Althea Adams said the 5,000 signatures was an appropriate threshold.
“You need to be really committed and perhaps have a group of you that are really committed going door to door, set up at a grocery store with your pen and your paper and start collecting signatures, I think. Would it be hard? Absolutely,” she said.
“But would it be commitment and showing that it’s real and showing it’s legit 100 per cent.… I believe that they have been researched and that they’re actually really well worth us making sure that we have those 5,000 electors.”
Delay for engagement
Hrdlicka also suggested the board delay passing the renaming policy until September, and instead spend more time engaging with the public.
“As a board of trustees, we have said we are prioritizing inclusion and diversity and have made a commitment to anti-racism, yet we have not at any point engaged with the elders advisory council or CBE CARES (collaboration for anti-racism and equity support) advisory or its members while writing this policy,” she said.
But the four other trustees disagreed, and argued it was important to pass this policy now, before the fall election.
“I think the best path for everyone is to move forward right now. If if we got something wrong, I think the next board will be able to fix it,” said trustee Mike Bradshaw.
Action group rejects policy
The policy has already come under scrutiny by the Reconciliation Action Group (formerly Change Langevin group), which fought to rename Langevin School, named for an architect of Canada’s residential school system. That request was answered at the beginning of June when the school was renamed Riverside School.
The group says the board “missed the point” with this policy, and argued the board continues to rely on the work of others to make name changes happen.
“They have to rely on controversy and being pressured to do things. They can’t take the initiative upon themselves to realize that we are in a time of change and therefore they should take the onus upon themselves to just do it,” said group member Adrian Stimson, a Siksika artist and residential day school survivor, speaking to CBC on Tuesday.
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