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LETTER: Kelly Road renaming more divisive than reconciliatory

An open letter to Board of Education Chair Tim Bennett and School District 57 Trustees:

As introduction, I am Kelly Road Secondary School alumni, so to speak, a student of KRJS years 1967, 1968 and 1968. I was born in Prince George and lived on the Hart.  I am a retired educator and was blanketed and recognized for 30 years support to the Sto’lo community.  My credentials, accomplishments and experiences could bore you for days.

My attachment to Hart and Kelly Road communities runs deep. Yearly, a number of Kelly Road classmates and two dearly beloved KRJS teachers from my era, enjoy a social weekend together, 50 years in the making.  I value my KR friendships and KR associations.

Following the ‘renaming’ situation closely and engaging at numerous levels for more than a month, I read the press release dated April 15th 2020. I dare to ask, Mr. Bennett, and the trustees, are you truly aware of the disharmony your unanimous ‘vote’ to proceed with a renaming of KRSS has caused? Do you recognize this has not been a decision toward ‘reconciliation’, “to help us move forward together?”

“It has been a challenging engagement process, largely due to circumstances outside of our control, and we anticipate that this decision will help us move forward together,” said Bennett.

 It has been a “challenging engagement process.”  Wrongly stated, it is “largely due to circumstances” within the control of SD57.  Members of the Hart and KR Community “challenged” the board decision to proceed with a name change for Kelly Road because of a lack of “consultative” action by SD57 Board of Trustees.   Concerned have spoken with “so much direct feedback, from public protest to heartfelt emails” (a quote from Mr. Bennett).

 Would there have been any attempt for community engagement if the KR community had not demanded to be heard?

“Signage on the outside of the building is under discussion as there is no translation for Kelly Road and the building sits on a Grizzly Trail. Looking at the school having two names until the name can be formally changed (Sascho on top and Kelly Road below) Waiting for approval and guidance from Lheidli Chief and Council,” 
page 7 Indigenous Education Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes February 3, 2020.

The advisory committee and Board of Trustees were already engaged in the “process” of a name change prior to February 03, 2020, in the guise of reconciliation, prior to passing a motion “to engage in the process of a name change” February 24th, 2020.  All this occurred without any consideration for more public input, only the “waiting for approval and guidance from Lheidli Chief and Council.“

Public scrutiny indicates the Board of Trustees may not have followed the board of education of School District No. 57 Charter, which states:

“Our mission, as a Board of Education, is to create a culture of trust and integrity by adhering to the highest standards of ethical behaviour and fiduciary responsibility. We, the Board of Education, individually and collectively, in the conduct of our duties, will be: Transparent, Open-minded, Consultative, Committed, Respectful of Diversity.”

 SD57 Committee minutes ‘Waiting for approval and guidance from Lheidli Chief and Council.” suggests an absence of adherence to board of education and senior administration guiding principles, which states: 

“The Board of Education and senior administration believe we are accountable to the families and communities we serve. We respect their diversity and support their involvement.”

Will any accounting of ‘data’ from families and the community, in questionnaire, phone line comments, protests, emails, letters, change the course of action the board has unanimously voted to already do?

 “We know that Kelly Road has a history and legacy in this district and that there’s going to be people questioning this decision, but I also believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Bennett.

Bennett added he’s looking forward to standing beside the Lheidli T’enneh to help them share the stories and knowledge of the land they presented to the board during the meeting, and engage students in the process of developing a new identity for the building.

 “Not everyone will agree and that’s okay because this is a good rebirth for the high school north of the Nechako.”

“The board then voted unanimously to approve the recommendation to begin the renaming process, and applause from the gallery immediately followed.

“We always had history in that area and the elders came and shared their stories about it and it turned out very well,” said Dayi Pountney after the decision.

“Now that it’s done, we have to work together to make all of this happen.”

Quoted from  SD57 Board approves request to rename Kelly Road Secondary School to the Dakelh name Shas ti  (Hanna Petersen,  February 25, 2020)

Mr. Bennett, has publicly stated he emphatically will stand “beside the Lheildi T’enneh”

Is it “the right thing” and a “good rebirth” to steal from Peter to Paul?

With a commitment to respect and stand by one group SD57 Board of Trustees ‘voted’ after “Waiting for approval and guidance from Lheidli Chief and Council.“

Is this acting with open mindedness, involving a consultative process?

In a post haste response to public sentiment, “now that it’s done,” the board ‘crafted’ a public engagement questionnaire, with bias, contrasting Shas Ti history with KR history, Justice Sinclair video on reconciliation, followed by questions, some of divisive nature.  Does the Board of Trustees believe they are being fair and accountable to the communities it serves by engaging in this manner, after everything is already in motion?

Bennett publicly stated “this is a good rebirth for the high school north of the Nechako.”

Did the “community engagement questionnaire” really address community concerns?  Will the collective community concern and sentiment have any effect on this motion to rename?  Can the communities it serves ‘trust” each member of the board to adhere to their code of ethics?

The board of education of School District No. 57 Code of Ethics states:

“As an elected trustee on the Board of Education, I will base my personal decision upon all available facts in each situation, vote my honest conviction in every case, unswayed by partisan bias of any kind, and thereafter abide by and uphold the final majority decision of the board.”

Is the mission of the Board of Education, to “create a culture of trust and integrity” being carried out? Did you, Tim Bennett, as chair, ensure the “highest standards of ethical behaviour and fiduciary responsibility”?

Dare I ask, will there will true “accountability to the families and communities” of Kelly Road and the Hart?

I am not in agreement with a name change, by addition or alternation Kelly Road Secondary School.  This entire fiasco can be laid at the feet of a few individuals, not blamed on circumstances or hidden in reconciliation.  This is not reconciliation it is divisiveness.

In a true spirit of concern I desire for wisdom to prevail among all parties concerned, for KRSS to remain, for Shas ti to be the name of a trail not a school, for the Board of Trustees to return to their duties and protocols, for SD57 to expend energies and resource to ensure the well being and education of all of our youth, for the governments of our provinces and Canada to engage in ‘meaningful’ reconciliation with our First Peoples.

“Now that it’s done, we have to work together to make all of this happen.”

G. B. Keryluik

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