YRDSB renaming Vaughan Secondary School amid namesake’s history of slavery

York Region District School Board trustees have voted unanimously to rename Vaughan Secondary School after consultations with the public.

In an announcement Wednesday afternoon, board officials said the word “Vaughan” was removed from the school’s name earlier in the day, leaving it unnamed for now. The vote occurred during a board meeting on Tuesday.

According to a report presented to trustees by director of education Louise Sirisko, she outlined the history of Benjamin Vaughan. She said the school was named after the city, which derives its name from the British parliamentarian.

The report noted Vaughan owned enslaved Africans in Jamaica and was adamantly opposed to the abolition of slavery.

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“Mr. Vaughan, who was born in Jamaica of British and Anglo-American parents, explained that from his personal experience, ending the system of slavery in Jamaica would mean the end of civilization in that country. Mr. Vaughan believed that enslavement was good for Africans,” it said.

“There is no question that the Black students living in the City of Vaughan and attending Vaughan Secondary School are or will become aware of the true history of Benjamin Vaughan, and this history will affect their sense of belonging and well-being.

“It is argued that Benjamin Vaughan needs to be remembered as having a legacy of anti-Blackness and not as a diplomat and parliamentarian. The renaming of the school is a way for the board to demonstrate its commitment to racial justice in general and to eliminating anti-Black racism in particular.”

Juanita Nathan, chair of the YRDSB, said after hearing the concerns from community members over the past couple of months, there was a desire to act.

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“We understood the hurt and harm experienced by community members, specifically our Black community members,” she told Global News in an interview Wednesday evening.

“It was a very ethical decision for us to make. It wasn’t something we needed to ponder.”

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The decision was applauded by Charline Grant, a parent who lives in Vaughan and is a member of the steering committee of Parents of Black Children. She and other parents were advocating for the name change.

“I’m from Jamaica and he owned slaves in Jamaica,” she explained to Global News.

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“We started saying we can’t have our children going back into the school with that name and the trigger that that name comes with.”

Grant said she and others were pushing over the summer to have the name change before the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

“It was a long process, a conversation back and forth, and even up other school names named after oppressors … and when it happened … I know I was stunned,” she said, reflecting on Tuesday’s vote.

“It’s a win.”

Grant said she and others will continue their campaign to have the city of Vaughan renamed — something Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua resisted in June when asked.

“We know that’s going to be a huge fight … we need it done,” Grant said.

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“We have been ignored in York Region and in Vaughan for a number of years.”

Meanwhile, it’s not clear when the school will be renamed. Nathan said consultations will be held with the public as school board staff review other property names.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.