Two Halifax-area schools to change names after controversy

Two schools in the Halifax area will be changing their names this fall, after recognizing controversy surrounding their historical namesakes.

Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) announced Wednesday that Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon will be renamed Bay View High School, while Tallahassee Community School in Eastern Passage will be renamed Horizon Elementary School.

The process to rename Sir John A. Macdonald High School began last November, after a years-long discourse on Macdonald’s legacy.

"By having our name, we're upholding values that our school does not support," said Grace Alberts, student council co-president in a video statement. "In changing this name we're able to better support our minority groups at the school, specifically indigenous people who've had to experience generational trauma from the effects of Sir John A, Macdonald, and to move toward truth and reconciliation."

The school’s principal Darlene Fitzgerald said in a letter to parents last November that the school's name will be changed because of the role Canada's first prime minister played in developing the residential school system.

"I truly feel that Indigenous students, when they see that name up above, it's not giving them full inclusion," Fitzgerald told The Canadian Press in November. "This is really a no-brainer for me."

On Nov. 4, the 13-member council voted unanimously to drop the former prime minister's name and start a process to select a new moniker that wouldn’t alienate Indigenous students.

Students, parents, staff and community members were able to submit suggestions for a new name, before students were asked to select the top three through a vote.

According to the committee's report, the three names – Bay View High School, Bay View Academy and Storms End High School - were submitted to the Halifax Regional Centre for Education for a final decision.

The committee unanimously decided that no submissions including a person’s name would be considered, including Jadon Robinson, a Sir John A. student and football star who died in a fatal car crash in November 2015. Out of 460 total votes, 145 were for either ‘Jadon Robinson High School’ or ‘Jadon Robinson Memorial High School’.

There were also 54 votes to keep the name as Sir John A. MacDonald High.

“We are pleased with how smoothly the process went,” says Amy Bradbury, Chair of the Sir John A. Macdonald High Advisory Council. “As a committee, we understood the importance of ensuring inclusivity at the school and creating a space where everyone feels safe and welcome. The name change for our school is important for achieving that goal.”

TALLAHASEE COMMUNITY SCHOOL RENAMED

HRCE also announced Thursday that Tallahassee Community School in Eastern Passage will be renamed Horizon Elementary School.

In a report put together by the Tallahassee Community School renaming committee, they said that concerns were raised in the spring of 2020 that the name Tallahassee has connections to slavery and anti-Black racism, as it was named after a Confederate state ship from the American Civil War.

“We are proud of the research we conducted in relation to the origins and history of our school name,” said Michelle Myers, Chair of the Tallahassee Community School Advisory Council. “It has been a deep learning experience for us all. By renaming our school, we are eliminating a barrier that can be interpreted as racist and solidifying our commitment to being part of the solution to build an equitable society.”

The school formed a committee in December 2020 and received a total of 238 submissions from students and the community.

The committee submitted three names – Horizon Elementary School, Coastal Elementary School, and Mariner’s Way Elementary School – to the HRCE, who approved Horizon Elementary.

“We are confident that our new name, Horizon Elementary School, is a reflection of our geographic location, and is a fitting addition to join our Island View Family of Schools in Eastern Passage,” added Myers.

ROCKY LAKE ELEMENTARY TO KEEP NAME

In addition, a third HRCE school, Rocky Lake Elementary in Bedford has confirmed that it will keep its name going forward.

HRCE provided the school with the temporary name when it opened in September 2020, with the understanding that the Principal would lead a process with students, staff and community to ensure the name is reflective of the school community.

“Four potential school names were put to a vote and the overwhelming decision was to keep Rocky Lake Elementary (RLE) as our official name,” said Susan Casey, Principal at Rocky Lake Elementary.

Of the four names put to a vote – Bedford Senior Elementary, Bedford East Elementary, Rocky Lake Elementary, and Rocky Lake Senior Elementary – nearly 50% of the 378 respondents chose to keep the name of the school, which is located on Rocky Lake Drive in Bedford.

“Students, staff and our school community said they felt strongly that a positive identity had already been established under our existing name and that Rocky Lake Elementary truly represents a safe space for all students and staff to learn and grow together,” added Casey.