Durham board won't change name of Julie Payette Public School despite controversy

·3 min read
Julie Payette, the former governor general, is pictured here. Durham District School Board trustees decided on Monday that they won't change the name of a Whitby, Ont. elementary school named after her. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Julie Payette, the former governor general, is pictured here. Durham District School Board trustees decided on Monday that they won't change the name of a Whitby, Ont. elementary school named after her. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Durham District School Board says it has decided it won't change the name of a Whitby, Ont. elementary school named after former governor general Julie Payette.

Trustees voted in favour of keeping the name of Julie Payette Public School at a meeting on Monday, according to Margaret Lazarus, the board's superintendent of equitable education, and Andrea Williams, the school's principal.

Lazarus and Williams said in a letter to parents and guardians on Tuesday that the board had set up a school naming committee in November and December 2021, given concerns about Payette. The issue arose after the former astronaut resigned as governor general amid an independent workplace review that found she had presided over a toxic work environment at Rideau Hall.

"As a community, it is important for us to come together and to remember that our school's name represents a multilingual Canadian astronaut, who logged more than 611 hours in space and became the Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), along with being a Member of the Order of Canada," Lazarus and Wiliams said in the letter.

"Julie Payette PS also represents the possibilities and opportunities we have as people who live on this land. Our staff, students, and families work together to embody the school's mission statement Dream, Aspire, Become, because we believe in every student's potential for success."

Lazarus and Williams said there's been no change in the values of the school, which runs from kindergarten to Grade 8 and has more than 700 students, according to its website.

"We will strive to promote an equitable, safe and meaningful learning environment that fosters global awareness and creativity while challenging students to be passionate, lifelong learners on their journey to discovery," they said.

CBC
CBC

Payette resigned as governor general on Jan. 21, 2021 after receiving a copy of the final report of the workplace review into harassment allegations.

When Payette stepped down, she apologized for what she called the "tensions" at Rideau Hall, saying that everyone has "a right to a healthy and safe work environment."

The review found there were serious issues at Rideau Hall that required immediate action.

Released under the Access to Information Act, the review detailed allegations from staff members of "yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations."

Payette was chief astronaut for the CSA from 2000 to 2007. She was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2010. The Queen named her an Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada in 2017 to recognize her appointment as Canada's 29th governor general.

Committee had to listen to all perspectives, letter says

According to Lazarus and Williams, the school naming committee was required to consult the community, listen to all perspectives and consider all submissions on the issue in keeping with the board's policy and procedure on naming of schools. It was supposed to bring forward naming recommendations and consider whether the school should be renamed.

The committee was made up of trustees, staff, students, a member of an Indigenous advisory circle and community members.

The board's policy and procedure on naming of schools includes "its commitment and legal responsibilities to Indigenous rights, human rights, anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and equitable and inclusive education," Lazarus and Williams said.

They added: "Consideration was also made on whether the current name of a school constitutes a significant departure from generally-recognized standards of public behaviour which is seen to undermine the credibility, integrity or relevance of the Board's contemporary values."

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