The Greater Victoria School District (SD61) will change the name of George Jay Elementary School after a racist history was linked to the namesake.
In August, members of the school’s parent advisory council (PAC) began advocating for a name change after learning that George Jay, a former school board director, named the school after himself in 1910 and imposed strict policies against students of Chinese heritage. The decision to go ahead with the change has left many people happy.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Angela Cooper, PAC president. “The diversity of George Jay is astounding… it’s really important that we can use this as a teaching and learning opportunity with the school.”
SD61 launched a survey to gauge the public’s opinion on changing the name in October, which resulted in mixed reviews.
More than 2,500 people responded to the survey, and 50 more attended an open house on the topic, with others supplying written responses.
Exactly 50 per cent of online respondents said they supported the name change, while 37.09 per cent said they did not. A total of 12.91 per cent said they may favour a name change once they knew what the naming options were.
Written response results were closer; 49 per cent were in favour, 44 per cent were not, five per cent were neutral and one per cent didn’t respond.
At the open house, 17 people wanted to change the name, 20 did not and one would support it once they know naming options.
On Monday, SD61 board members voted to move forward with choosing a new name, with trustees voting to create a committee to explore name options. While the committee has not been developed yet, SD61 said in a release that it will have representation from the Victoria Chinese community, Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, parents and guardians, district and school staff, and the board.
“I think as a whole we’re just really proud to be able to have the opportunity to learn more about our history and to address the historical wrongs, and to plot a very positive way forward,” said Jordan Watters, SD61 Board Chair. “George Jay is a very diverse community and we want to be sure it has a name to reflect the community more broadly.”
Watters added that the committee will take its time in choosing a new name, while also developing a way to commemorate the history of the school.
“We’ve learned a lot from other processes, such as with the [City of Victoria’s] John A. Macdonald statue, of how important it is for the community to do this properly,” Watters said. “We’re not interested in white-washing history, we’re really interested in addressing it and moving forward in a positive way. The name isn’t just going to go away, it’s part of our history and we’re in the education industry so it would be important to involve an education component.”
Watters was not certain what that education component might be, but said a plaque or something visible would likely be included.
While a report from the committee isn’t expected until the end of the school year, some names put forward by the community will be considered. From public engagement responses, the leading name suggestions included North Park Elementary, Fernwood Elementary, Cook Street Elementary, a name that recognizes First Nations and traditional territory, or a name that recognizes the Chinese Canadian community.