Armed police will no longer be posted in Toronto public high schools
“Ten years ago our board made a mistake by not consulting the public, and not listening to the voices in the community,” trustee Tiffany Ford said. “Our schools are meant to reinforce the power of education and not the power of stigmatization."
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Police officers will no longer be posted in any Toronto high schools, Canada’s largest school board has decided.
Trustees at the Toronto District School Board voted Wednesday night to pull the plug on the decade-old school resource officer (SRO) program.
The move, greeted with cheers from a boardroom full of spectators, was in response to feedback from students, parents and the community who warned the regular presence of armed police officers on school grounds has undermined some of the city’s most vulnerable youth.
“I think it’s a really important moment,” trustee Marit Stiles said after the vote, which was not unanimous.
“The community has been telling us for some time that this program has been problematic,” added Stiles, who supported the motion to discontinue it.
One vocal opponent who for years has been advocating an end to the SRO program, called it “a transformative and courageous change” by the board.
“The TDSB has taken a bold stance for equity,” said Andrea Vasquez Jimenez, co-chair of Latinx, Afro-Latin America Abya Yala Education Network (LAEN).
The decision means officers posted to 45 TDSB high schools last year will not return there for regular duties. They had not been in schools this year because the board suspended the SRO program in August pending its review.
“Ten years ago our board made a mistake by not consulting the public, and not listening to the voices in the community,” trustee Tiffany Ford told the meeting.
The program was launched after the shooting death of student Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys, a school in Ford’s ward.
But she said the SRO program was flawed because it focused on having police at schools in only the most racialized and marginalized areas.
“Our schools are meant to reinforce the power of education and not the power of stigmatization,” she said.
The decision Wednesday followed recommendations earlier this month from TDSB staff, who called for termination of the program based on results of a six-week review and input from thousands of students, staff, parents and community members. It included surveys completed by 15,500 students with police in their schools.
While a majority of teens reported being satisfied with the SRO program, or had no opinion, staff concluded the thousands who did say that having officers at school made them feel uncomfortable, intimidated and targeted were far too significant to dismiss.
While 57 per cent said having police in school made them feel safer, 46 per cent said they weren’t sure they wanted the program to continue. But 1,715 (11 per cent) said the presence of an officer intimidated them and 2,207 — or 14 per cent — said they felt watched and targeted as a result.
The staff report, applauded by groups like Black Lives Matter, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and others who wanted officers removed from schools, was unanimously endorsed by the TDSB’s planning and priorities committee last week following a parade of delegates who appeared before them to support the move.
They argued the presence of armed police was detrimental to many Black youth, undocumented teens who felt threatened even though they have a legal right to education, and other marginalized groups.
Many proposed that instead of having police on school property, the board should put more resources toward hiring youth counsellors, social workers and launching anti-racism programs.
At that meeting, TDSB director John Malloy acknowledged staff had generated backlash over its recommendations, and especially from those who believe the SRO program helps build relationships between youth and police and serves as an important preventive measure. But he said the decision was not based on “majority rules,” because every student deserves to feel comfortable and safe in school.
Malloy said that despite having no officers present this fall, there have been “no challenging circumstances to report” from high schools in the last three months. And while there is not necessarily a correlation, he said, the number of suspensions and expulsions have also declined significantly.
The program is still operating in about two-thirds of the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s secondary schools and similar programs are in place in other Ontario cities.
Those unhappy with the push to end the SRO program include Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack, who has said ending it will be a big loss for students and community policing because officers aren’t there to lay charges but “to resolve issues and keep people out of the justice system.”
Mayor John Tory called the TDSB staff recommendations “unfortunate” because they were made in advance of the yearlong review of the program being undertaken by Ryerson University for Toronto police.
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