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UGDSB Scraps School Resource Officer Program

UGDSB Scraps School Resource Officer Program

Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) will no longer have a School Resource Officer Program. With that and several other recommendations, students can expect to see a significant reduction in police presence at UGDSB schools.  

On March 27, UGDSB trustees voted unanimously to implement all of the proposals conferred to them in the Police Presence in Schools Task Force Report.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to take a step back, regroup, and rebuild those community partnerships. Not just with the police, but with other community stakeholders and members to build the capacity in the school system and the community,” asserted Trustee Linda Busuttil.

At the previous UGDSB Board of Trustees Meeting, held on March 23, 2021, UGDSB received a report and heard a presentation regarding police presence in schools from the associated task force initiated in June 2020. The Board of Trustees established the task force to review the matter and develop recommendations for changes if needed. The task force consisted of staff and members of the public. The task force hosted town halls and surveyed stakeholders to gather data and community input. Although discussions with police did occur, they had no representation on the task force. According to the report, UGDSB formed the task force in response to leaders and individuals from the community inquiring about the police’s role in the UGDSB in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. 

“The interpretation of this data is not about intention; it is about impact,” explained Joy Sammy, Workplace Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager for the UGDSB, at the March 23 meeting.

In the report, the Police Presence in Schools Task Force made multiple recommendations to the Board of Trustees for approval. It specifies that the committee had taken an equity and human rights-based approach. The recommended changes include

  • That the ‘Presentations in Schools Guidelines,’ developed by the Student Support and Program Services department of the UGDSB, be used to assess all police presentations. This would entail that all presentations be reviewed through an equity, anti-racist and anti-oppressive lens.
  • A letter gets distributed to all students and parents in advance of police presentations occurring at the school. This should inform them of the date, time, and purpose of the presentation.
  • That staff collect feedback from students and staff on all police presentations within the classrooms and school. The collection forms would have a grade- and age-appropriate design, with the police providing input and getting survey results.
  • That administrators collect data on all incidents that police respond to at UGDSB schools. This would also comprise police services and board staff meeting and participating in a yearly review of feedback and data collected.
  • That the UGDSB cancels the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

Last month, trustees voted to defer voting on the proposals until the March 27 board meeting. Trustee Busuttil, who made the motion to defer, reaffirmed that this was to ‘create space for conversation on the issue.’ 

The School Resource Officer Program was established to work closely with high school administration to promote a learning environment that is safe and positive for students and staff within the school facility. SROs provide guidance and direction to students when needed and engage in class discussions, assemblies, and parent groups. The SRO program’s funding comes from the associated police service budget rather than the school board. In UGDSB schools, SROs said that ‘they respond to crisis intervention calls at schools and act as a conduit between police and schools in a crisis intervention.’ Despite common misconceptions and what happens in reality, the School Resource Officer’s purpose is not to enforce rules, gather information, or police the halls. The police services involved reinforced this message in their discussions with Task Force after the report was released.

“SROs were never signed up to be the enforcers in our schools, and there were times where we as educators had inadvertently put them in that position,” shared Superintendent of Education Cheryl Van Ooteghem. “We all need to take responsibility for this, to learn from this. We need to make changes together, and we need to move forward.”

The Police Presence in Schools Task Force highlighted several issues with the School Resource Officer program. Surveys showed that students ‘in the margins’ experience the most obstructive repercussions of School Resource Officers in secondary schools. Another concern was the lack of consistency in the program, particularly when selecting and evaluating officers. Moreover, there was significant confusion as to the purpose of the SRO program.

“It is a system that is not properly set up and has moved away from what it perhaps was supposed to have been, and policing has recognized that,” reported Marva Wisdom, of Wisdom Consulting, who was one of the co-facilitators of the task force meetings. “There is no proper accountability in place necessarily.”

UGDSB is not the first school board to end its School Resource Officer Program. Both Peel District School Board and Hamiton Wentworth District School Board ended it in 2020. Toronto District School Board discontinued the program back in 2017. At the March 23 meeting, it was stated that the OPP was conducting a province-wide review of the Safety Resource Officer program.

References – UGDSB Scraps School Resource Officer Program

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