VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – What’s in a name? That’s the question being posed ahead of a meeting Monday night, when the Vancouver School Board will consider a motion to remove a sign from a local playground commemorating a controversial African figure.
Some have called Cecil Rhodes a grandfather of Apartheid in South Africa. His name is on an architectural element saved from a heritage school building originally named after him near Oak Street and 14th Avenue in Vancouver.
Since the 1970’s, the school has been called L’École Bilingue, and when a new building went up a couple of years ago, part of the old floor was made into a sign and put up in the playground.
VSB Trustee Jennifer Reddy is sponsoring the motion.
“We are an educational institution and it is a playground for elementary school kids, and because Cecil Rhodes is, by the Guardian, known as a ‘quintessential racist,’ I think it’s pretty obvious what the, sort of, values-led leadership decision is here. So I’m confident that tonight we’ll be able to vote for its removal.”
Last year the school’s Parent Advisory Council asked the board to take it down. Earlier this month, the sign was covered up with a piece of plywood and a note.
“This piece of the school’s former staircase has been covered up after concerns were raised about it bearing the former name of the school,” a sign over the panel read. “This will allow time to support and engage with the school community about how historical wrongs should be recognized, and together, find a way forward.”
The VSB is set to vote on trustee Reddy's the motion tonight. The local Parent Advisory Council voted last year to ask the board to remove the sign.
— Mike Lloyd (@llikemoyd) June 24, 2019
The nameplate was actually a large piece of flooring from the original school.
Rhodes was a 19th Century British politician and businessman who served as the prime minister of the former South African province of Cape Colony from 1890-1896.
Some of the legislation that he passed while in the role of prime minister has been regarded as the groundwork for apartheid policies in that region.
Reddy took to social media after the sign was brought to her attention.
“I think there’s some debate about whether or not this is controversial, and I think it’s interesting, because it’s very obvious what Rhodes’ history is if you do a quick search,” she said.
As a district that “talks about reconciliation and anti-black-racism,” Reddy believes it has committed to addressing these issues. She is confident the monument will be removed.
L’École Bilingue’s principal, Natalie Morissette, said the school and the board had both agreed to cover the signage after the concerns were raised.
“I think by putting the board, we’re inviting the conversation to take place and as the school administrator, my role is to facilitate that conversation,” Morissette told NEWS 1130.