WATERLOO REGION — The public school board will vote on a motion to review the School Resource Officer program at its Monday meeting.
The program consists of 10 police officers assigned to high schools and elementary schools in the region.
Local Black activists and community advocates involved with the K-W Solidarity march in June criticized the program in their calls to action regarding racial justice in Waterloo Region.
Later in June a student-led group called Students 4 Inclusive Schools ran a campaign to voice their concerns about the program, reporting that Black and racialized students didn’t feel safe with police in schools.
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In response, Waterloo Region District School Board trustee Scott Piatkowski brought forward a motion to pause and review the program.
The board put the school resource officer program on hold in June, and if Piatkowski’s motion passes on Monday, it will be the first review of the program in 20 years.
“This program is controversial,” Piatkowski said. “There are people who do not welcome the police presence in our schools, and those people have been quite adamant in that position. And that’s not to say that that’s going to be the outcome of the review. But we should, at the very least, do the review and determine whether this is a program that we want to continue in any format.”
Superintendent Bill Lemon said that when the program was operational, administrators often shared information about students with the officers through weekly check-ins, if it regarded student safety or well-being. Information about students from other school boards was also shared with police, if deemed necessary, Lemon said.
The resource officers work with administrators using an incident classification process to determine their level of involvement with students, ranging from ‘low’ (disrespectful behaviour, suspensions), ‘moderate’ (wellness checks, driving complaints), and ‘serious’ (all deaths, gang activity).
Cancellation of the program elsewhere has led to positive results for student achievement and well-being. After the program in the Toronto District School Board was ended in 2017, the number of suspensions and expulsions in the following school year dropped by 24 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively.
In an interview, Lemon said that while some administrators feel frustrated not having access to the resource officers for support, the suspension of the program has not created unsafe situations in schools.
Lemon said that he has heard a wide range of responses since the pause of the program. “I probably have received an equal number of messages from parents and families saying, ‘we support the steps you’re taking in pausing the program. We’re glad you’re taking the review. We’re looking forward to seeing this process unfold.’ And then there have been others who have been very disappointed.”
The original motion was amended to stipulate that three students be added to the review committee, in response to feedback trustees received when the notice of motion was first introduced.
Ann Marie Beals, a local PhD student involved in committee work with the school board, said that the issue of police in schools is not limited to just the resource officers.
“I think it’s a part of a larger problem. I think it’s part of a climate, a mindset where you can have a custodian or a hall monitor, a teacher, administrator, or a police officer feel that they have the right to perpetuate violence on Black and Indigenous students, and maybe even staff and teachers who are racialized.”
For two years, Beals has been a member of the Black Brilliance Advisory Committee, which advises the Waterloo board on developing strategies in support of Black students.
Beals said that the review, while welcomed, would only affirm concerns voiced by students and community members.
Beals referred to the school-to-prison pipeline, an effect that links the education system to the increase in criminalization of mostly Black marginalized and racialized youth.
“I personally believe we don’t need that particular data, because we know it’s true. We have listened to the experiences of the people in our communities,” they said.
“We know these things are happening.”
Fitsum Areguy’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.