New Brunswick

'Ridiculous' secrecy over new Woodstock school's name blasted

A retired high school teacher is taking on what he calls “ridiculous” secrecy at one of the province’s school districts.

Anglophone West School District is refusing to say what other names were considered for Townsview School

Richard Blaquiere, a former teacher, is calling the school district's refusal to release the list of suggested names of the new school "just silly." (CBC)

A retired high school teacher is fighting what he calls "ridiculous" secrecy at one of the province's school districts for failing to disclose information over the naming of a new school in Woodstock.

Richard Blaquiere has been trying for almost a year to find out what names were considered for the Townsview School, a school that does not actually have a view of the western New Brunswick town.

But the Anglophone West School District has refused to provide the information, saying it might offend the family members of people whose names were considered.

I have no idea why someone would make us go through all this just to get names of schools that were rejected.- Richard Blaquiere, former teacher

At first, Blaquiere felt there were better options out there, including naming the school for one of the Woodstock residents who has been prominent in local or provincial history.

But now it has become a fight over principles such as transparency and accountability.

"I have no idea why someone would make us go through all this just to get names of schools that were rejected, names that came from the public," said Blaquiere, who made the request in his role as a freelance columnist for the local weekly newspaper.

"The names came from the public and we just want to give them back to the public."

The new Townsview School in Woodstock received 50 other suggested names. (CBC)

The school's view of Woodstock's downtown is blocked by trees. The back of the school is below some residential streets and there's a sports field within sight of the front door.

No landmarks are visible from the building, which opened in December 2014.

Even so, Blaquiere said he was told by the deputy minister of education in August 2014, before the school opened, that it "somewhat overlooks the town."

Blaquiere responded by asking for the approximately 50 name suggestions the public sent to the district. A committee narrowed that list to three finalists and sent them to then-education minister Marie-Claude Blais, who made the final choice.

Right to information request denied

When the district refused to give Blaquiere the list of 50 suggestions, he filed a Right to Information request.

Anne Bertrand, the province's information commissioner, is now investigating Blaquiere's complaint against the Anglophone West School District. (CBC)
The district rejected the request, citing an exemption that allows advice to a cabinet minister to be kept secret.

David McTimoney, the district superintendent, also wrote to Blaquiere saying that because some of the suggestions would have honoured prominent people with ties to Woodstock, releasing them "could possibly offend [directly or indirectly] a member of the public or his/her surviving family."

Blaquiere complained about the rejection to Information Commissioner Anne Bertrand, who is now investigating.

"If we get an answer in December, it'll have been 13 months that we've been seeking information at taxpayers' expense to find out 50 names that were rejected," he says.

"It's absolutely ridiculous and a shame."

McTimoney refused to give an interview about the case Monday, saying "a more appropriate time" would be when Bertrand finished her investigation.

"They're moving along quite well with it," he said.

Blaquiere also says the district official who handles right-to-information requests sat on the name-selection committee, which put that official in a conflict of interest when he rejected the request.

The district argued in its response that people who suggested names for the school were promised confidentiality.

But Blaquiere says he's not asking for the names of the people who made submissions, only the potential school names they suggested.

"It's just silly," he said.