EPSB votes unanimously to rename Oliver, Dan Knott schools over harmful legacies
EDMONTON -- Edmonton’s public school board voted without opposition on Tuesday to rename two of its schools, whose namesakes were affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and racist government policies.
The proposal by trustee Michael Janz suggested the board follows the same process for naming new schools and gathers community feedback on Dan Knott and Oliver Schools.
Janz told his colleagues he could "no longer live with (the names) as namesakes for our schools."
The first of the two was named after a former Edmonton mayor and labour activist, who supported and saw support from the white supremacist hate group during his bid for city office.
Oliver School was named after former Member of Parliament Frank Oliver, who, during his time as a federal minister, pushed forward policy that permitted the expropriation of Indigenous land, affecting reserves across Canada. He also oversaw the creation of residential schools as Indian Affairs Minister.
Janz called Knott's and Oliver's actions "two actions beyond the acceptable level of behaviour that we would tolerate from anyone.
"While I welcome namesakes and continue to acknowledge the complexity of namesakes, there is a threshold where that name should no longer be celebrated... That individual belongs in a history book as a lesson, as part of an education course. Not as a namesake of which we are celebrating and expecting our students, staff and families to honour."
Janz argued the naming of a school is the highest honour the board can give, and therefore the school names were worthy of reconsideration given the board’s commitment to reconciliation and inclusion.
His colleagues agreed unanimously.
Of not changing the schools' names, trustee Bridgit Stirling commented, "I think that turns the conversation from one about history and the importance of people's contributions to our community into one where we try to justify why we continue to honour people who've done great harm."
Sherry Adams, trustee for Ward 1 in which Dan Knott School is located, added, "As we look at this, we are very certain that these are not characters we want to uphold."
'THIS IS THE FIRST STEP'
The changes have been called for by local community groups, including the Oliver Community League and an Indigenous teen and student who collected 7,800 of 10,000 signatures to remove the reference to Knott from her school’s name.
“I’m like, ‘Well this is something I sure feel strongly about, so why not make a change with this, now is the time’,” said Aimee Dorsey, the Grade 9 student who started the petition. “I think that this is the first step.”
- READ MORE: Petition launched to retitle Edmonton school named after pro-KKK mayor
- READ MORE: Oliver Community League calls for neighbourhood name change
Board chair Trisha Estabrooks called the petition's effort an "astounding" sign that the desire to rename was coming from the heart of the community.
Similarly, president of the Oliver Community League, Robyn Paches, said he was very happy to hear about EPSB's decision to engage the community while renaming the schools.
"It shows that the school board is prioritizing listening to the needs of the community, listening to the needs of their students, and wanting to be invovled."
The group has called on the City of Edmonton to do the same thing for the neighbourhood, specifically requesting a process to "discover a new community name" for the district.
"We heard loud and clear from a few key members that the name (Oliver) was carrying a lot of trauma for them that was bringing back sentiments of what their ancestors went through," Paches told CTV News Edmonton. "The legacies of the individuals belong in our education system. In our museums."
"We took action, and we're asking the city specifically to ask the community what to do."
Back at the EPSB meeting, Estabrooks and vice chair Shelagh Dunn questioned whether there was a larger conversation to be had about using individuals' names at all.
"Where does renaming end? We talk a little bit about this: We are all human, we all have faults. Granted though, some of these faults are much, much bigger than others," Estabrooks told the board.
"Perhaps our board needs to reconsider naming schools after people after all."
Dorsey said she didn’t necessarily think schools shouldn’t be named after people, but that proper research should be done beforehand.
“The thing is, if it’s acceptable now it might not be acceptable 20 years from now. Like Dan Knott, it was acceptable for him to be running around with the KKK but not anymore.”
REPORT ON SRO PROGRAM DUE
EPSB was also set to receive more information on the recently paused school resource officer program.
The board announced on the second day of classes it was suspending the initiative, operated in partnership with Edmonton Police Service, pending a review.
For the 2020-21 school year, an interim model designed at the onset of COVID-19 in Alberta will be used instead. Constables specializing in dealing with youth will no longer be stationed at public schools, but available through dispatch.
The SRO program has been used in Edmonton public and Catholic schools since 1979 but was never reviewed, according to board officials.
Through an agreement with EPS, EPSB pays 50 per cent of the cost of each officer for the 10 months of a school year. The annual cost of the program for the school division is $1.2 million.