The Vancouver School Board has covered over a plaque bearing the name of a controversial historical figure at a Vancouver French Immersion elementary school.
The plaque was installed under a basketball court at L’École Bilingue in 2017. It consists of a tiled floor segment salvaged from the school when it was torn down and rebuilt for seismic safety in 2015.
That older building was constructed in 1910, and until 1977 — when it became a French Immersion school — it was called Cecil Rhodes School, named after the Victorian-era mining magnate and politician in British colonial Africa.
L’École Bilingue principal Natalie Morissette said members of the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) raised concerns about the name last year, but no action was taken.
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She said the recent decision to cover it up was made with an eye to beginning community consultations.
“ was a conscious decision to to invite the community to discuss what it really means,” she said.
“It’s led to great curiosity on a day like today at our school, and generated some great teachable moments at various grade levels. Of course our Grade 7s had a lot to say.”
The controversy around the plaque relates to Rhodes’ legacy in colonial Africa, according to Vancouver School Board Trustee Jennifer Reddy.
Reddy says she plans to bring a motion at the board’s next meeting to call for Rhodes’ name to be permanently removed from the school property, arguing that it doesn’t reflect the values of the district or contribute to the well-being of students or the community.
“This is recommended as per our commitment to acknowledge and address Anti-Black racism, and is supported by the school’s PAC,” tweeted Reddy.
“Cecil Rhodes was a leader in the establishment of systemic and institutional racism towards black people in Southern Africa… Any further upholding of names like Cecil Rhodes in our district make us complicit in his legacy.”
Morissette said whatever happens, she hopes that students have a voice in the outcome.
Rhodes, who lived form 1853 to 1902, was a key figure in British colonialism in southern Africa, and served as the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.
His critics have dubbed him a white supremacist and an early architect of the racist apartheid system that later defined South Africa.
In 2015, a protest movement dubbed #RhodesMustFall sprung up in South Africa, targeting a statue of Rhodes at the University of Capetown, calling for decolonization of the education system and a re-examining of the historical figure’s controversial legacy.
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