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Petition catches fire with criticism over SD57’s decision to change name of Kelly Road Secondary

More than 3,300 signatures on Change.org page in under 15 hours

The decision to begin the process of changing the name of a Prince George high school in the Hart region came at 8:30 p.m. last night (Feb. 25).

Less than half-a-day later, around 9:30 a.m. this morning (Feb. 26), an online petition has reached more than 3,300 signatures in support of keeping Kelly Road Secondary School’s name as is and criticizing School District 57 (SD57) for not consulting with the public first.

In a unanimous decision by the Board of Education, and at the request of Lheidli T’enneh Dayi (Chief) and Elders, SD57 trustees agreed to take the step forward to truth and reconciliation in renaming Kelly Road to Shas ti, which, in Dakelh, means ‘Grizzly Bear Trail’ or ‘Path.’

However, after the decision was made public, criticism immediately spread throughout various social media outlets, some coming citing the school’s 58-year history off the Hart Highway.

A Change.org petition was created by Hannah Jones, a recent graduate of Kelly Road Secondary.

“Kelly Road is a legacy,” she wrote in the petition’s description. 

“It’s been the name of that school for longer than I’ve been alive, I don’t think the school district should be the only people to have a voice in this decision. We have to fight to keep the Legacy alive!”

As of this publication, the petition has over 3,300 signatures in a span of 15 hours

Many of those who went to the public page voiced their opinions on Tuesday night’s decision.

The following comments are from Kelly Road graduates.

“Kelly Road has a very long legacy that should not be thrown away at a moment’s notice,” said Lucas Gairns, “Without even consideration of consulting the community, the School District wants to destroy that legacy. Let’s make sure that they understand that a name change is not in the public interest.”

“I went to Kelly Road Secondary, it will always be Kelly Road School to me,” says Nancy Jewer, “I do not see the point to this name change. There is nothing wrong or offensive about the name Kelly Road Secondary.”

While most of the comments are in against the name change, there are some comments on social media that welcome the Shas ti Secondary name.

“Love it,” says Alisa Olesik, “With every renaming I'm learning more about the first people and their traditions on this land. One step closer to reconciliation.”

“The school is being completely rebuilt,” says Reilly Walker, “Now's the time to make a name change. Retire the Kelly Road name and let the new name go to the new building.”

Kelly Road Secondary was announced a new $44.3-million facility in March 2017, which is set to be completed by September this year with enough space for 900 students.

SD57 provided $1 million of that funding to the B.C. government’s $43.3 million to replace the current building originally built in the late 1960s.

So, with the new school and a new name on the horizon, Board Chair Tim Bennett said he's looking forward to standing beside the Lheidli T’enneh to help them share the stories and knowledge of the land they presented to the board during the meeting, and engage students in the process of developing a new identity for the building.  

“Not everyone will agree and that’s okay because this is a good rebirth for the high school north of the Nechako,” Bennett said at last night’s school board meeting.

“We know that Kelly Road has a history and legacy in this district and that there’s going to be people questioning this decision, but I also believe it’s the right thing to do.”

After the new Kelly Road building is complete, the project's second phase will include the safe removal of material from the old school this fall and its demolition, which may be finished as early as Spring 2021.

- with files from Hanna Petersen, PrinceGeorgeMatters