Freedom of information request reveals discrepancies between gathered opinions and the way they were publicly presented

Special to the VOICE

The results of a freedom of information request surrounding the name change for E.W Farr Memorial Public School were provided to the Voice last week by Names Matter, a resident group that is lobbying to reverse the name change. The group says that what they’ve uncovered raised a number of questions about the legitimacy of the process.

Last Year, District School Board of Niagara trustees voted to rename the school “Wellington Heights” after implementing policy A-09, which initiates a renaming process. As part of the justification for this decision, the board has previously cited the results of a survey held among students, parents and community members.

However, as the Voice has learned, these survey results may not add up.

“According to the DSBN, 37% of respondents nominated E.W. Farr or a form of E.W. Farr,” said Fenwick resident and Names Matter member Jina Kerr, in reference to the data.

“Actually, 45.3% wanted E.W. Farr or a form of E.W. Farr.”

“I find this significant given the question, ‘Do you want a new name for the school,’ was never asked,” she added.

The DSBN received 250 submissions after initiating the renaming process, and the discrepancy seems to arise from how the submissions were tallied.

These 250 entries consisted of 86 potential names, of which 7 were eliminated by the board, ranging from “Fenwick Super School” to requests to keep the current name. The information contained in the FOI request shows that E.W. Farr was the most popular choice by a wide margin, though that was not how the data was presented.

Instead, DSBN representatives claimed that 93 of 250 respondents supported some form of the name E.W. Farr as the best option, and represented this figure as 63% of respondents preferring a name change for the school. This 63% figure was used a justification for a new name in presentations made to parents, the community, and board trustees. It would also appear to be the information provided by DSBN representatives to Pelham’s Mayor Augustyn, who noted at a June 6, 2016 Town Council meeting that, “63% wanted a different name, so perhaps that’s why, or one of the reasons why they considered changing the name.”

While Council ultimately voted to send a letter to the school board requesting that they reconsider the name change due to the feedback received from the community, the numbers cited in that meeting and elsewhere were, until recently, assumed to be accurate.

“I cannot figure out where they got the 93 out of 250 figure from,” said Ker, who has reviewed the information contained within the FOI requests.

“When you review all of the submissions you find that some variation of the name E.W. Farr accounted for 110 out of 243 submissions.”

This is a significant figure and highlights a number of problems with the naming committee’s process and ultimate decision, says Ker.

“[Only] 14 of 243 submissions wanted Wellington Heights or some form of a Wellington theme,” said Ker. “So in reality 94.2% of respondents requested a name other than Wellington Heights or a form of Wellington Heights.”

The FOI also shows that more children voted to keep the original name than voted for anything else. According to the DSBN, 27 of the pro-E.W. Farr responses were from current students at the school. The second most popular submission, “Cherry Ridge Public School,” received only 17 votes in total.

When filing a nomination form, respondents were encouraged to provide a rationale for their choice. Several pages worth of reasons were provided requesting the name to be left alone, significantly more than any of the other options.

“I feel that the name of the school should continue to be E.W Farr Memorial,” reads one submission. “It was named after a great educator and a great community member. To take this name away from the Pelham area would be wiping out part of our history.”

“It was an honour to name it after Mr. Farr,” reads another. “He did a lot of good for education and the community of Fenwick and needs to stay.”

So far, the DSBN has stuck by their decision to rename the school. However, a number of community groups remain committed to seeing that decision reversed before the facility takes in students next fall.