School District 70 is considering changing the name of Ucluelet Secondary School to better reflect the school’s student population, which includes youth from Tofino and surrounding First Nations communities.
SD70 started work on a name changing policy roughly five years ago when concerns were expressed over the name of Port Alberni’s A.W. Neill Elementary School due to Neill’s history as a vocal opponent of Japanese immigration to Canada and a supporter of the residential school system during his time as a member of the House of Commons from 1925-1945.
“As we developed that and then applied it to all of our schools in the district, we realized that there were some things that stood out. Ucluelet Secondary for example, the reason why we’re looking at it is that it fails to capture the catchment area it serves, which is inclusive of Tofino,” SD70 Superintendent Greg Smyth told the Westerly News. “We’ve heard, in some situations, from Tofino parents or residents saying, ‘It’s unfortunate my child graduates from ‘Ucluelet Secondary.’ So, what we’re doing is that we’re looking at a process to see if there’s a name that better captures the West Coast region that it serves.”
He said the school board has been brainstorming potential names to be considered, but is still early in the process and plans to consult with the school’s staff, students and parents.
“The trustees will make the decision on whether we rename or keep the name of the school,” he said adding a consultation process is being worked out and will run through the winter months with a decision expected in the spring in time for the start of the 2020/2021 school year.
“There will be a lot of strong opinions for or against and a lot of different suggestions thrown out there as to what [the new name] might be,” he said. “There will be questions about the economic impact, of how much it will cost us to change, that will be weighed against the moral and regional issues of [whether] it is the right thing to do.”
He added the timing is right to consider a name change as the school is set to undergo a massive $45 million seismic upgrade and partial rebuild, meaning new signage will be needed regardless of whether or not the name changes.
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly News he was surprised by SD70’s decision to investigate a possible name change at USS.
“Personally, I’m very happy with the name of the school. I don’t think there’s any negative associations with the school the way it’s been,” he said. “It’s about where it’s located. This is not a Tofino-Ucluelet thing.”
He added he has not heard any concerns regarding the school’s name and noted that ‘Ucluelet’ means ‘safe harbour’ in the Indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth language.
“We’re always working on how to name everything the right name…Being a graduate from that school, I haven’t heard any of my Tofino peers that went there thinking it should have been changed,” he said. “The name of Ucluelet actually represents something in the First Nations language. It already has a connotation and local meaning of safe harbour…I don’t know how much more we could do to make it represent our community and our area.”
Pieter Timmermans has lived in Ucluelet for 39 years and told the Westerly he does not see a need to change the school’s name.
“It’s always been called Ucluelet Secondary School,” he said. “Leave it alone. I don’t see what the purpose is. The school is in Ucluelet. Even though it serves the wider area, it’s still a school that has its roots and base here. Tofino has the hospital; it’s called the Tofino [General] Hospital.”
He added that changing the name could lead to unnecessary expenses.
“From a taxpayer’s point of view, if you start changing names, there’s quite a cost involved with that. All the signage, all the stationary, is it necessarily worth all the cost when that money could be put into other aspects of education, whether that’s library books or computers?”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly she welcomes the discussion.
“I think it’s considerate of the School District to initiate a conversation about whether a high school located in one community that serves at least four communities should change its name to better reflect the student body,” she said, adding she hopes the students are allotted the strongest voice in the decision.
“Ultimately, I think the decision should rest entirely with the students themselves and I hope they are engaged in a participatory decision-making process, something more than just a survey that actually involves dialogue and discussion. I have total confidence in the students, I know they can come up with an answer themselves, avoid divisive argument, and demonstrate the kind of leadership that brings the region together. I can’t wait to see what they decide.”
Smyth suggested School District 70 is also considering changing its own name as ‘The Alberni School District’ does not capture the West Coast schools within it.