Two parent groups are calling on the public school board to cut their school resource officer programs, suggesting police should be replaced with youth workers trained in psychology.
Two deputations given during the June 16 Simcoe County District School Board meeting covered the topic of school resource officers at both the elementary and secondary levels, with both presenters asking the public board to reconsider the practice of allowing police officers to be a constant presence in local schools.
Amber Beckett provided a deputation representing Reimagine Public Safety Barrie. Beckett herself has also worked with the school board as an anti-Black racism educator.
Beckett asked trustees to consider what they would prefer if an issue came up at their own child’s school.
“If an issue arises... think about if you would rather the person who is handling it be trained in compliance and use or force, or someone who is trained in working with youth with a background in education and psychology,” said Beckett.
Beckett said mental health experts or volunteer mentors could provide similar services, but at a lower cost. She said students have reported feeling “uncomfortable, intimidated and unsafe.”
“I would suggest you should consider prioritizing counsellors and not cops,” said Beckett.
Beckett’s younger brother, CJ Palmer, also participated in the deputation as a recent graduate of Innisdale Secondary School.
“Students obviously do things they’re not supposed to sometimes. Like, in the bathrooms, kids might vape or use drugs. Having police officers walking in and out of the bathroom randomly is really awkward for the kids who don’t do those things,” said Palmer. “It makes everybody in that environment really uncomfortable. The bathroom is supposed to be a private area.
“It’s an uncomfortable situation having police officers in schools,” he said.
Beckett said the issue is not just one of schools, but that it is an issue of human rights.
“Seeing police can cause a fear response in many people, even if they’ve done nothing wrong,” said Beckett.
“Some people might think having police around is a great thing, but some people also think having peanut butter sandwiches is great. (The schools) don’t take the chance with peanut allergies because of the negative impact it has on a small population,” she said.
Gillian Scobie, a representative of Parents Against Racism – Simcoe County (PARSC), also provided a deputation, and said the group met with the school board earlier this year to discuss demands the group has to address anti-Black racism in local schools.
The demands were originally laid out by Parents of Black Children, a Toronto-based group seeking to reform education at the provincial level. The demands range from reforming the Education Act, eliminating streaming, collecting race-based achievement and discipline data and hiring Black teachers.
Police-free schools is Demand 5 on their list.
“The SCDSB promotes safe schools as one of their priorities. Police in schools is the complete opposite of that initiative for Black and racialized students,” said Scobie. “It appears there is a lack of understanding and awareness of the barriers between the BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of colour) community and the police.”
Scobie referenced a scholarly study completed by Martin Ruck and Scot Wortley in 2002, which studied racial minority high school students’ perceptions of school disciplinary practices. According to the study’s findings, ethnic minority students were more likely to perceive discrimination with respect to teacher treatment and school suspension relative to their white peers.
“Black students are being disciplined at a much higher level. Forty-two per cent of Black students have been suspended at least once in secondary school compared to 18 per cent of white students,” said Scobie. “There are systemic issues within the school system and the policies and procedures that are still currently in place.”
The school resource officer program was dissolved at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in November 2017. Peel Region followed suit in November 2020, as have multiple other school boards across Ontario.
In March 2020, the TDSB’s director of education John Malloy reported publicly that student suspensions dropped by 24 per cent, and expulsions dropped by 53 per cent since the cancellation of the school resource officer program.
At the meeting, when asked by New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz what action the deputants would like trustees to take, Beckett said she would like to see a temporary suspension of the school resource officer program while a board review takes place to determine whether the program should continue, as a similar tack was taken at the TDSB. She said a board review would ideally include consulting with students, parents, teachers and community groups.
“I would be happy with you following that model,” said Beckett.
According to public school board officials, a police/school board protocol currently exists between the four school boards and four police services that serve Simcoe County and area. The protocol will be reviewed next year, as part of the regular process, at which time the SCDSB will engage in conversations about programming and supports.
During the meeting, trustees voted to receive both deputations for information.