Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
Vicky Mochama: Gita Madan is making schools safer for all Toronto kids
Part 2 of a series on Toronto activists to watch in 2018 highlights Gita Madan, who helped end the TDSB's use of a program that saw uniformed police officers stationed in schools.
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With elections looming at Queen’s Park and city hall in 2018, change is on the horizon. In this three-part series, meet the grassroots activists shaping the future now.
Part 2: Gita Madan of Education Not Incarceration on the value of collective efforts.
What makes a teacher decide to become an activist?
“A very deep-rooted sense of justice inspires me to do what I do,” says Gita Madan of Education Not Incarceration. With Madan’s leadership, ENI helmed a community push this year to remove police officers from Toronto schools.
Although the change happened as part of an extraordinary effort, Madan sees her work as part of a continuum of demands that have been coming from community groups.
“The call for removal of the program has been there this whole time,” she told me by phone, citing work by the likes of the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty group.
The School Resource Officer program was created nearly 10 years ago after the 2007 shooting death of Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys. The young man was found dead in a stairwell at the school. Shocked, the city, school boards and police responded by creating the SRO program, which put police officers into select schools.
After a recent vote, that will no longer happen. With groups like Black Lives Matter, the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network, and Educators for Peace and Justice, ENI led a call for the program to be eliminated, citing its disproportionate impact on Black and undocumented students.
Five years ago Madan was a student herself. During her master’s in social justice education, she decided to look into the SRO program. She found very little information, which struck her as odd. As she looked further into it, she began to speak out against the presence of police in schools. But she says, “It wasn’t gaining the kind of traction that I was looking for.”
Now a high school teacher in the city’s west end, she decided to bring together others to do something about the SRO program. Starting at the end of 2016, a core group of eight people made it their goal to address the criminalization of racialized youth in schools, and thus ENI was born.
“Prior to ENI’s work, there wasn’t this active presence at police services board meetings,” says Madan. “The SRO program was just a run-of-the-mill program that they approved every year.”
But suddenly, the police services board found their meetings not only well-attended, but with a great deal of focus placed on the SRO program.
“I think the board was taken by surprise because they either hadn’t heard, or hadn’t been listening to the concerns about the program,” notes Madan.
However, attention and energy didn’t translate to change at the police services board. But ENI and the other community groups were ready for that. They had been speaking directly to the city’s two largest school boards.
After suspending the program in August, the Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest, voted to cancel it in November. (The city’s Catholic school board has not chosen to cancel its program.)
It is a striking win for the city’s community groups, and a vote of confidence for working together.
Says Madan, “The biggest lesson I learned from this campaign is that community action is possible.”
More in this series
Part 3: Stella Palikarova of Boundless in the City