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School board amends school-naming policy to avoid namesakes

Though naming future schools after individuals is 'not off the table,' the school board will focus on names that are 'symbolic, inclusive, and easily related to numerous ethno-cultural groups'
08-09-2021 MRSS762
Maple Ridge Secondary School in southeast Barrie opened in Sept. 2021. The name was chosen in Dec. 2020 because of the school’s location on Mapleview Drive East, as well as the importance of the maple leaf to the Canadian identity.

The Simcoe County District School Board is making moves to avoid naming names.

During Wednesday’s (June 15) regular meeting of the Simcoe County District School Board, trustees voted to ratify changes to the board’s naming of schools policy. The policy includes a move away from naming future schools after individuals, although a school board official has said those options aren’t “completely off the table.”

The change was noted during discussions on the matter at the June 1 business and facilities committee meeting.

“With everything we’ve heard over the past few years with schools that have a person’s name on them and having to change the name for various reasons, we don't specifically have anything about person’s names in here and I'm wondering whether it's something that we need to think about,” said Oro-Medonte/Springwater trustee Peter Beacock.

While instances of references to naming schools after individuals was removed from the policy, wording was also added to include that consideration should be given to groups “which have historically been under represented or those who have experienced oppression” and that names reflect a positive image of the board and can “stand the test of time.”

“The focus should be a name that is symbolic, inclusive and easily related to numerous ethno-cultural groups throughout the system,” reads another new addition to the policy.

Changes to the policy will also be applied to the naming of school athletic facilities and designated spaces.

The Simcoe County District School Board has not been in a recent situation where a school name change has been necessary, according to officials. However, in February 2020, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board decided to change the name of Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Collingwood to Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School following sexual-assault allegations being made against the school’s former namesake following his death.

The change was made official in June 2020.

Back in September 2020, the York Region District School Board voted to rename Vaughan Secondary School to distance itself from Benjamin Vaughan, who was an 18th-century slave owner who openly opposed abolition. The school was renamed to Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School to honour the Somali-Canadian journalist who died in 2019.

During the June 1 meeting, Associate Director of Education Dawn Stephens said name changes that have occurred at other boards were taken into consideration when making changes to the policy, which is why some of the new wording was added or taken away.

“We didn't want to completely exclude (naming schools after individuals) as an option,” she said. “We made the determination that we didn't want to take that option completely off the table for committees.”

Within the SCDSB, typically school-naming committees are struck at the direction of the director of education, and are comprised of the local trustee, school principal, one additional board staff member, three or fewer students who will attend the school, three or fewer parents of students who will attend, one member of the municipality’s council and one community member. The committee is tasked with making one recommendation to trustees, who have final say over the name.

All elementary schools must include ‘public’ in the name, while secondary schools must include ‘secondary’ in the name.

Adjala-Tosorontio/Clearview/CFB Borden/Essa trustee Robert North asked how the board could make sure more historically under-represented voices were heard through the process of naming a school.

Stephens said the board is hoping parents and students who make up the committees would provide that input.

The policy was last revised in November 2018.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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