The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) says trustees are taking steps to make it easier to change a school’s name, but students say the process remains opaque and details are scant.
“The board is currently focusing attention on finalizing a process including criteria by which schools, including Langevin School, may be considered for renaming,” the CBE said in a written statement.
“The board recognizes the significant nature of this work and are approaching this work thoughtfully, while remaining committed to respectful dialogue that honours the traditions of schools and the interests of all concerned stakeholders.”
The announcement comes after a group of students turned up the heat on their long-standing advocacy to trustees to change the name of their school, the Langevin Science School, which is named after one of the architects of the residential school system.
It also comes just a month after board chair Marilyn Dennis told CBC News there was no existing process to change a school name, and developing one would likely take longer than trustees have before the election in the fall.
“I would say we’re not going to see any schools renamed during the remaining term of this board of trustees,” she said at the time.
Langevin school students Joy McCullagh and brothers Zach and Seth Helfenbaum have been advocating for more than four years to have the name of their school changed, and recently delivered speeches on the matter at a public board meeting.
‘It might get halted’
McCullagh said while she’s excited to hear the work they’ve long been asking trustees to do is finally underway, she’s still worried because the board hasn’t released a timeline.
“It might get halted if it’s not out by the election,” said the Grade 8 student.
Zach echoed his classmate’s thoughts, saying he finds it odd that trustees haven’t shared an update publicly to indicate they had even started the work.
“It’s a bit disappointing because I thought that, as they would start it, someone would at least notify us about it,” he said.
Heather Lucier is an Indigenous woman who attended the school as a child. She said while the development of a process is needed to move forward with changing the school name, the board should be upfront about what this work looks like.
“I would love to know more details,” she said. “The community should be more involved.”
The students said one thing that’s been good to see over the last few weeks, as the spotlight has been on the issue of renaming their school, is the support from the community.
Seth, who is in Grade 5, said he was especially pleased to hear that the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) sent a letter to the CBE earlier this month in support of renaming Langevin school after 96 per cent of the Local 38 membership voted in favour of it.
“If they support it, they can bring it up and then from there, it goes higher,” he said. “So it’s good to know that we have support there as well.”
In an interview with CBC News earlier this month, ATA Local 38 president Bob Cocking said the goal is to join the students in putting pressure on the board of trustees to take action.
“Get this done rather than waiting for the next board of trustees to be elected to do this work,” he said. “I think this work can be done now and it shouldn’t be delayed.”
When asked, the CBE would not provide further details in relation to how the process is being developed, if there was a timeline for the work to be completed, or if they were engaging with members of the community in the creation of the process.
The City of Calgary made the decision in 2017 to change the name of a downtown bridge that had also been named after Langevin. It is now named Reconciliation Bridge.