Trustees at the Toronto District School Board have voted to end the School Resource Officer program – a program that has placed police officers in some high schools for nearly a decade.
While the program’s goal was to make schools safer and build better relationships with police, many students said they felt targeted and intimidated by the presence of police.
“I think we have listened to what our students have told us,” TDSB Chair Robin Pilkey said following the meeting. “We have decided to stop a program that has caused many of them distress and I think that’s important. We’ve listened to many of the students who don’t normally have voice.
“The important thing to us is that all of our students are able to achieve in school and if some of them felt intimidated or targeted or watched, that is not helpful for student achievement.”
Just three trustees opposed the move and one abstained.
The vote by the TDSB comes one week after a meeting was held to discuss a staff report, which followed a six-week period where students, staff and parents at schools affected by the program were surveyed. Student focus groups and community meetings were also held to assess the program.
The report ultimately concluded that the SRO program should come to an end but noted that police and the school board should continue to work together to ensure safety in learning environments – a point emphasized by the school board at its meeting Wednesday.
“Trustees also voted this evening to have staff continue to work in partnership with Toronto Police to maintain positive working relationships that will ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive culture in every school,” the TDSB said in a statement released after the vote. “As always, Toronto Police will continue to respond to any incident that threatens the safety of students, staff, and school communities.”
Before being suspended in August, the SRO program saw officers stationed at 45 TDSB high schools. The program was implemented in 2008, one year after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was fatally shot at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute.
The decision to scrap the program Wednesday drew praise from activists who had packed the meeting.
“What this means for Jane and Finch – this is testament to Jordan,” Butterfly GoPaul of Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty told reporters. “Jordan’s name has been pulled to justify criminalizing our community, militarizing our community for more than 10 years, so this is so, so big.
She called the win a big victory and added that her community said years ago that they didn’t want police in schools.
“Ten years ago we asked community ‘did we want cops in schools’ and that is documented and our community said ‘no.’”
Speaking with CP24 following the vote, Toronto police Association President Mike McCormack slammed the decision as an “anti-police” decision that will make students less safe.
“I think that it shows a lack of vision, a lack of foresight and it’s going to have a negative impact not only on the safety of students, but also on the relationship between police and students,” McCormack said.
Earlier Wednesday, Pilkey told CP24 that while many students may have been in favour of the SRO program, “a significant number of students” said they were against it.
“We have to listen to the fact that in our 45 schools 15,000 students did a survey and over 2,000 students said that they felt intimidated, they felt watched, they felt targeted – that wasn’t the majority though,” she said. “But, it is a significant number of students and I think it’s important when we’re listening to people that even if you’re not the majority we are still listening to you.”
An interim report on key findings related to the SRO program is expected to be completed by researchers at Ryerson University in January 2018.