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School board drops the ball on Kelly Road renaming

In politics, timing is everything.

School District 57 trustees couldn’t have picked a worse time to announce they are beginning to “engage in the process” of naming the Kelly Road Secondary School replacement something other than Kelly Road … for a couple of reasons.

And it all has to do with the furore across the country stemming from some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Firstly, a lot of Canadians are growing tired of what they perceive to be indigenous issues/culture being foisted on them. That’s not to say these issues don’t need to be addressed, they certainly do. So when it became abundantly clear that the school board favours the Lheidli T’enneh suggestion of Shas Ti for the new school, it became another indigenous issue to get angry about.

Secondly, the Wet’suwet’en issue has made protesting en vogue again. The day after the board announced a possible name change, students at Kelly Road opposing the name change staged a noon-hour protest.  Another protest is slated for Saturday at 10 a.m. in front of the school district office. Also, within 24 hours of the announcement, an online petition opposing the change garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

The school board may have just unleashed a maelstrom it cannot contain.

While some of it has to do with bad timing, a lot of also has to do with bad execution as well.

Board chair Tim Bennett was genuinely surprised at the reaction to the possible name change. He shouldn’t have been. It was just a few years ago that the city unleashed a similar furore when it renamed Fort George Park to Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park. Bennett and the rest of the school board should have learned from that exercise. They didn’t.

When the city went about the name change, it was very much a top-down decision. The community at large didn’t know about the name change until the decision had been made. As much as people didn’t like that name change, they also didn’t like the fact the city didn’t engage with them before making the decision.

While the school board hasn’t quite acted as top down as the city did, since it’s not a done deal yet, it’s pretty close. It’s apparent the school board favours Shas Ti as the new name.

So, once again, the anger is as much about the community being excluded from the decision as it is about the actual name. And it will be tough, if not impossible, for the school board to put the genie back in the bottle.

No matter what it does now to involve the community, should it choose Shas Ti, the community will feel the fix was in from the start.

Bennett has acknowledged they should have engaged with the community prior to now. He’s right about that.

The school board should have also learned from the spate of school closings a decade or so ago that neighbourhoods identify strongly and viscerally with their local school. Messing with the local school invokes deeply personal and emotional feelings. The board should have anticipated that reaction.

They could have handled things better.

The school board could have announced a possible name change, hold a naming contest, appoint an independent committee to evaluate submissions from the community for a new name … or for keeping Kelly Road.

They could have had fun with it by engaging the community, who would then own the new name. After all, there’s nothing wrong giving a brand new school a brand new name.

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