George Jay Elementary will get new name

George Jay Elementary School will be getting a new name. The Greater Victoria school board has voted to go ahead with the change, and form a committee to consider a new name.

The move comes after questions were raised about George Jay’s views while he served as school board chairman from 1907 to 1934. Current board chair Jordan Watters went public in September about her concerns regarding Jay’s policies. “It’s been a topic of conversation for years, really,” she said on Tuesday.

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As school board chair, Jay implemented a regulation in 1907 that Chinese children had to pass an English test to get into public schools, something that did not apply to children of other nationalities.

He also directed in the early 1920s that more than 200 Chinese elementary students in public schools should be moved to facilities on Kings Road and in Rock Bay — leading to a strike by Chinese students that went on for a year.

In the fall of 2019, the board conducted an online survey on whether to rename the school, generating more than 2,500 responses. An open house on the name question was held in November.

Participants suggested everything from location-specific names such as Cook Street Elementary or Fernwood Elementary to names that reflect the Indigenous or Chinese communities.

“We’ve already got a lot of suggestions around what people would like us to consider in terms of a new name,” Watters said.

The renaming committee will include people from the Chinese community, the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, parents and guardians, staff from the district and the school, and board members.

The diversity of the committee’s members will be “super important to creating a positive outcome,” Watters said.

The length of time the group will deliberate has not been set.

“I would love to see the committee complete its work by the end of the school year,” Watters said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be putting any time limits. The work will take how long it takes.”

The Alberni School District is also looking at changing the name of an elementary school. A.W. Neil Elementary is named for Alan Webster Neil, a former mayor, MLA and MP who supported anti-Chinese laws in the B.C. legislature and approved of residential schools.

He also had a restriction placed on his Port Alberni home that it could not be sold to Asian people. The restriction was removed in 2019.

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