The Greater Victoria School Board (SD 61) is apologizing for decisions made by a century-old board that led to the segregation of Chinese students in the public school system.
The apology comes at the request of Alan Lowe, chair of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, who spoke at a special SD 61 board meeting in July and recalled the historical wrong of segregating Chinese students.
Back in 1907, the board passed a motion requiring Chinese students to pass an English exam to attend schools in the school district — a practice legally challenged by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.
Then in July 1922, the board passed another resolution put forward by George Jay, the board chair at the time, to segregate all Chinese students up to Grade 7 for the upcoming school year.
“Previously the Chinese students were segregated up to Grade 4,” said Lowe at the July 27 meeting.
The new policy, enacted on Sept. 5, 1922, saw principals remove Chinese students from their classes that same day and lead them to the Chinese Public School on King Road.
But as the cohorts neared the building, students dispersed and began to strike in protest after efforts of the Chinese community to try and stop the motion proved unsuccessful.
The Chinese Canadian Club, the Chinese Commerce Association and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association also fully supported the strike, according to Lowe.
“What started as a school boycott became a protest movement for equality which brought together the Chinese community locally, regionally and nationally from county and clan associations to individuals,” said Lowe.
“Those of us, of Chinese descent, who were born and raised in Victoria, were able to attend public schools because of those who preceded us.”
Lowe’s apology request prompted the SD 61 board to unanimously pass a motion to write a formal apology to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association for the segregation of Chinese students by the school board and George Jay.
It follows the B.C. government’s 2014 apology to the Chinese community for historical wrongs by past provincial governments.
“Among a long list of historic wrongs perpetuated against the Chinese community in Victoria, this stands out as a particularly dark incident for our school district,” said SD 61 board chair Ryan Painter.
“The Greater Victoria School Board apologizes for the actions of its previous trustees and former board chair, George Jay. The racist discrimination that led to this act is unacceptable and viewed with regret,” said Painter in a news release Friday.
He says the district will work with the Chinese community to ensure this history is not forgotten and remain committed to celebrating their contributions to the City of Victoria and South Vancouver Island.
Commemorative walk marks 100 years
On Monday, Sept. 5, locals can participate in a commemorative walk marking the 100th anniversary of the student strike, which will retrace students’ steps and start at George Jay Elementary School on Princess Avenue at 10:30 a.m.
“We feel that on the 100th anniversary, we should reenact that walk, but on other terms,” Lowe said during the July board meeting, inviting board members to attend the upcoming walk.
“Reenacting the walk with the school board, so that we could show that we’re working together in this day and age to commemorate the occasion.”
For more information about the upcoming walk, visit this website.
With files from CHEK’s Laura Brougham