WRDSB to end school resource officer program
The Waterloo Region District School Board will end its school resource officer (SRO) program.
The program was put on pause last year amid calls for police reform. It was being reviewed over concerns of its impact on Black, Indigenous and racialized students.
At a meeting on Monday evening, board trustees agreed with a consultant’s report that recommended putting an end to police officers in schools.
Some trustees wanted to delay the decision for more consultation, but in the end all seven recommendations from the committee were approved.
Among the recommendations: to end the SRO program immediately, issue an apology to racialized students, and reallocate money to community-based services for youth.
“None of that matters if there are students who are feeling harmed and when it comes to student safety, I really appreciate what trustee Meissner mentioned, there is no middle ground here. There is no figuring out something else or compromising, because middle ground is at the expense of our students who feel unsafe,” said WRDSB trustee Carol Millar during the virtual meeting.
While the recommendations were ultimately approved, some trustees did not want to make the decision at the meeting.
A motion was brought forward to defer until April 2022 to give students who haven’t been in school for much of the past year more opportunities to voice their concerns.
“Although the program has been on pause for a year, students have largely not experienced school without an SRO because of the pandemic. So, we have to see what's going to happen when we return to school this year,” said WRDSB trustee Kathi Smith.
The school board is now being asked to develop a clear procedure limiting the role of police in schools other than incident response.
As for the Waterloo Region Catholic District School Board, it is still reviewing the resource officer program which is on pause.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Waterloo regional Chief of Police Bryan Larkin called the WRDSB's decision "disappointing and upsetting."
The statement continues: "We remain proud of the work School Resource Officers have done, and we thank them for their commitment, their passion for youth engagement, and their dedication to making a difference in the lives of so many. However, we have always and continue to be, prepared to listen and learn and are committed to further discussion on delivering service differently that will benefit the entire community."
In 2019, 10 School Resource Officers were assigned to 240 secondary and elementary schools in Waterloo Region.
"If anybody experienced, had a negative experience and or created trauma, for that we actually apologize," Larkin said in an interview with CTV News on Tuesday. "It was never the intent of the program."
The decision to scrap the program has drawn support from some experts and advocates in the community.
"How many more voices do we need to hear say this program has been traumatizing?" said Kathy Hogarth, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Social Work.
Community advocates have long argued that policing in schools disproportionately impacts racialized students.
"It's recognizing that the ways in which Black and Indigenous students disproportionately are surveilled, are harassed, and are seen as threats," said Selam Debs, an anti-racism educator and community advocate.
Larkin says the service invests $1.3 million annually in youth-based education and engagement, including the SRO program.
Advocates are now calling for those funds to be reallocated.
"Go towards community care initiatives from the community that supports our students and helps them thrive, helps them feel safe and is culturally competent," Debs said.
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