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Student petition aimed at putting police back in schools

'Not having the officer here kind of scares us. It takes away a safety net for us, but also for generations coming after us,' says student
A group of students from Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School in Collingwood have started a petition to have police officers brought back as a regular fixture in Simcoe County schools.

Some Collingwood students want police brought back into their school, and they’re looking for support from other students and families across Simcoe County who feel the same.

This week, several Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School students started a petition to have police brought back to their school.

Both the Simcoe County District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board recently informed trustees that they had cancelled police-led classes in their elementary and high schools.

Previously, school resource officers had attended elementary schools to run structured programs such as OPP KIDS, DARE, Barrie police’s Inside Out program and South Simcoe Police’s Be The Real U (BTRU) program, as well as wandering the halls and speaking to students during lunch and breaks. At the secondary level, school resource officers held regular office hours in schools and were available to students during school time.

As of now, both boards will only allow officers in schools if there’s a call about an incident or issue, or if they are invited specifically for safety patrol training, bike and traffic safety, digital safety presentations or presentations to secondary school law classes.

Our Lady of the Bay student Kaitlyn Boersen, who started the petition, says her Grade 12 law teacher first raised the issue as part of their law class last week, and invited Collingwood OPP school resource officer Const. Christine Dineen to speak to the class.

“Not having the officer here kind of scares us. It takes away a safety net for us, but also for generations coming after us. They won’t have the knowledge or education that we do,” said Boerson.

Following the talk, the students decided they wanted to take more action.

“Our whole class took it as a serious problem,” Boersen said. “I think it’s important. Instead of getting rid of them and saying that’s the end of the problem, I think being exposed to them would create a more comfortable environment.”

Boersen says Our Lady of the Bay does have guidance counsellors, however there have been times in the past where she has gone to the school resource officer for help and is worried other students won’t have that same support network.

“It provided us with a safety net outside of school. I’m not always comfortable talking to a guidance counsellor, but I know with police officers, things are confidential. They have the power to make me feel safe,” she said.

Boersen says she participated in the DARE program when she was in Grade 6, and some of the lessons she learned there have helped her in navigating situations as she grew up.

“If it wasn’t for DARE, I think a lot of us would be into drugs right now,” she said. “I used to go to a lot of parties when I was in Grade 9. If it wasn’t for DARE, I would have been peer pressured into doing a lot more harmful things. It’s helped also in looking out for other people who are doing drugs. We know what to do if they’re overdosing. It helped open your mind to what to look for.”

Grade 12 student Tyrone Newman also participated in the DARE program in Grade 6, and agrees that the knowledge he gained there has been helpful in his life.

He says he built a good relationship with Const. Dineen in Grade 11, and was also disappointed to hear that she would no longer be allowed to walk the halls of the school anymore.

“I found out it was making some students uncomfortable. I think the root of (the program) making some students uncomfortable is that they’re not familiar with the cops,” said Newman. “If it’s an issue with a specific cop making students uncomfortable, maybe they need to change the cop.”

In June 2021, two different parent groups provided deputations to the Simcoe County District School Board calling on the dissolution of police programs in local schools, citing incidents of Black or Indigenous students feeling unsafe, as well as suggesting social workers, not police, should be the government agency providing mental health and wellness supports.

The school resource officer program was dissolved at the Toronto District School Board in November 2017. Peel Region followed suit in November 2020, as have multiple other school boards across Ontario.

“With cops only being allowed in the school by invitation – usually when something negative is happening – as students, we’re going to have a negative (impression) of the cops,” said Newman. “I think if you’re anxious around a cop, it might make them anxious too. To have a calm and good relationship with them is very important.”

Student Ava Gorman says she had visited Const. Dineen during her office hours on multiple occasions because she was considering a career in law enforcement.

“She was really helpful for me to send me on the right path,” she said. “I wanted to get involved because it’s important to have someone we can trust in law enforcement. Sometimes students have trouble opening up about things happening in their lives to their parents or friends.”

Gorman says the petition isn’t just important for students, but also for parents of younger students.

“I think it’s important for parents with younger children to realize that these programs are important with how the world is working today,” she said.

Megan Betsworth-MacNeil wanted to get involved because she has younger siblings, and wants them to have the same positive experience she had with police in schools. She also notes there’s an issue with vaping at her school.

“I know quite a few people who would go to (Const. Dineen) for that. They didn’t feel comfortable going to the principal or vice principal for that,” she said.

When reached for comment on Thursday, Const. Dineen said she was aware of the petition following her presentation to the class.

“They started asking questions about why they hadn’t seen me and that was how the conversation started. We’re so proud of them for speaking up for themselves,” Dineen said. “I really enjoy working with the kids.”

As of now, the student petition sits at about 260 signatures. Looking forward, the students are hoping to gather more signatures from community members, parents, and other students across both Simcoe County public and Catholic schools before they intend to present the petition to trustees and the school boards.

To access the petition, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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