York Region District School Board votes to rename Vaughan High School, citing the namesake’s racist past

The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) voted unanimously to rename a high school in Vaughan named after the city’s founder because of its racist past.

In a statement on Wednesday, the school board announced it would change the name of Vaughan High School, located on Clark Avenue just east of Dufferin Street in Thornhill.

“It is important that our education system is sensitive to the lived experiences of all members of our community, including students and families in our black community,” YRDSB President Juanita Nathan said in a statement Wednesday. “Students, staff and families can continue to be proud to be a part of this school and a school community that values ​​equity and inclusion and shows a commitment to anti-black racism. “

The move follows a renewed debate on whether these institutions and spaces named after people with racist backgrounds should continue to bear their names.

A report from school board staff notes that Vaughan High School, which opened in 1989 and now serves a diverse community of about 1,150 students, is named after the town of Vaughan rather than its founder.

Nonetheless, the report says renaming the school would be a way for the council to “demonstrate its commitment to racial justice in general and the elimination of anti-black racism in particular.”

Benjamin Vaughan was a British parliamentarian born in Jamaica who owned slaves and vehemently opposed the end of slavery. According to the report, Vaughan also argued that slavery was “good for Africans”.

Vaughan died in 1835.

The staff report is concerned that the “sense of belonging and well-being” of black students will be negatively affected by the name of the school on an ongoing basis and says it is “unthinkable” that they are to learn in a building “named after someone who viewed their ancestors as uncivilized beings deserving of property or possessions to own.”

“Tackling anti-black racism is a priority for the York Region District School Board,” Education Director Louise Sirisko said in a statement. “The name of a school must be supported by the local community and offer students, parents and community members the opportunity to be inspired to learn. “

An online petition in June urged the city to change its name. Vaughan City Council has so far resisted the call, choosing instead to rename an August holiday for former Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe rather than Benjamin Vaughan.

The report estimates the costs associated with the school name change to be approximately $ 90,000.

More details on the name change process are expected to be released at a later date. For now, the school has removed “Vaughan” from the signage on the front of the building.

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