Schools in the Nelson and Creston areas will not be renamed after people, living or dead, in an effort to reconsider the region’s colonial history.
School District 8 has introduced a policy that puts restrictions on what its facilities can be named, which superintendent Trish Smillie said is a way of re-examining the past.
“As we’re unlearning and relearning history in 2022, it really does cause us to look at other ways of doing things and also it causes us to look at our history differently,” said Smillie.
The board approved the policy for public consultation and is expected to finalize it at its June 21 meeting.
The move comes after Prince Charles Secondary School in Creston was renamed last year. That change was brought on by a local teacher who argued the school’s name did not reflect the community.
The school was renamed Kootenay River School, which was the preferred choice of the Lower Kootenay Band, and was made as an act of reconciliation.
Smillie said the district didn’t previously have policy for the renaming of facilities. The new policy would do away with naming buildings after people, and will only consider a name change to an existing facility if it is offensive to the school population and community.
A geography-based name like Kootenay River School, Smillie said, isn’t likely to be considered problematic in the future.
“Culture changes and shifts over time, and so does perspective. The trend in the province, and what we’re proposing to pass here, is that we start to move towards names that stand the test of time.”
Smillie said none of School District 8’s 21 brick-and-mortar schools are currently being considered for a name change.
The shift away from naming schools after historical figures isn’t unique to School District 8.
The former Ryerson University in Toronto was renamed to Toronto Metropolitan University in April after students protested its namesake Egerton Ryerson, who is considered one of the creators of the residential school system.
School District 8 also released its anti-racism and cultural safety policy at its May 24 board meeting.
The policy, which is also now released for public consultation prior to being finalized in June, is broad and includes 11 items such as commitments to reconciliation and Indigenization.
Smillie said the district previously had language about discrimination in its workplace policies, but nothing specific to anti-racism practice. Once the policy is approved by the board, she said the district will use it to guide more concrete practices.
The policy is also formed by students. Smillie said a student advisory group used their own experiences with racism to develop a toolkit for training staff, while students, staff and school partners were consulted on the policy.
“Ultimately, we’re hoping for this to be some really culture shifting work where people are able to understand what racism is and then identified how to move forward in a way where we’re supporting and honouring all diversity in all of our communities.”