In the final hour of Limestone District School Board’s regular Board meeting on Wed. Jun. 16, 2021, a motion was passed to initiate a renaming process for École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School. A complementary motion was passed to call the school by its original name, Kingston East Elementary School, for an interim period beginning Wednesday, Jun. 30.
Trustee Garrett Elliott moved the motion, which was unanimously supported by the board:
“That staff initiate a potential renaming process, including all stakeholders outlined in Administrative Procedure 552, and including consultation with the Indigenous Education Council, to review the name of École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School to ensure it reflects our board’s mission, vision, values, with a lens on reconciliation, decolonization, anti-racism, and anti-oppression principles.”
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who took the time to reach out to us with such thoughtful, honest and heartfelt messages,” said Trustee Elliott.
“We know from these emails, and conversations with friends and neighbours, [as well as] reports in the news that having a school named after Sir John A. Macdonald hurts people. As School Board Trustees, it’s our job to do what’s best for students and families in our communities, and no one can take action on this topic the way we can. Thank you for your support.”
École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School opened in Kingston’s east end in 2013 and now educates students from Kindergarten to Grade 6, offering both English and French Immersion programming.
Trustee Robert Godkin, who presides over École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School, seconded the original motion and suggested an amendment to temporarily rename the school Kingston East Elementary School, beginning on Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2021. This vote was not unanimous.
The amendment led to a discussion around the ethics of choosing an interim alternative name immediately. The amendment was contested by Trustee Karen McGregor, who emphasized that the original motion mandated consultation with the Indigenous Education Council in choosing a new name.
“I just want to be really clear that I’m not against taking the name down. [I’m against] us renaming it. I just don’t feel comfortable that we’re going right back into the seat of renaming it what we want to rename it. We’ve made this mistake – we need to make sure we’re not making it again.”
Trustee Joy Morning pushed to ensure that a change is made before another school year begins in September, as requested by the community.
“I don’t know why we would drag our feet on this and have people who are very offended and hurt by this attend school in September with the name still there,” she said.
Trustee Elliott called the interim name a “great intermediary” between the beginnings of what may be a long renaming process and the final result, which will allow for the offending name to be dropped immediately, while creating space for a long-term change with appropriate consultation.
It was mentioned during the meeting that, in the fall of 2020, Queen’s University made the decision to drop the former Sir John A. Macdonald name from its law school building. This decision took place after two months of public consultation, and involved a separate (and ongoing) renaming process. The law school currently invokes no name but its own (Queen’s University Law School).
Trustee Godkin maintained that “the feedback from the community is clear,” referencing the work being done by the local Indigenous community as well as non-Indigenous supporters to remove the Sir John A. Macdonald statue that still stands in City Park.
“This goes beyond removing a statue of a former prime minister,” said Trustee Morning. “This is honouring a man who caused irreparable damage and harm to Indigenous children in the name of education. His name should not be associated with any educational institution.”
Student Trustee Quanah Traviss, who is Limestone District School Board’s first Indigenous student trustee, abstained from his non-binding vote.
“I’m going to abstain from vote, not because I don’t support it, but because this specific instance of a wrong being done in the past, naming a school after Sir John A. Macdonald, is not something that was done by Indigenous people, and I feel [it is our problem, but] it’s not our problem to fix.”
Trustee Godkin’s amendment to the motion passed after some debate; eight school years after its inception, École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School is set bear a new name.