TDSB trustees vote to pull police officers from schools as review conducted on SRO program
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Thursday, August 31, 2017 5:14AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 31, 2017 4:05PM EDT
Trustees at the Toronto District School Board have decided to temporarily pull police resource officers from Toronto schools as a review is conducted on the controversial program.
The school resource officer program, which places cops at 36 of 75 schools run by the TDSB, was launched in 2008 following the death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners, who was fatally shot at C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute in May 2007.
Some members of the community have been critical of the program, suggesting that it facilitates racial discrimination in TDSB schools.
On Wednesday night, school board trustees decided to suspend the program until at least November as TDSB executives conduct a review.
“Trustees felt that it would be difficult for people who maybe feel that they have challenges with the program to come forward to talk about their concerns with police officers still patrolling the schools. So the decision was taken that the program would be suspended until the final report is provided at our November meeting,” TDSB chair Robin Pilkey told CP24 Thursday.
“The feeling was that if you may have some challenges with the program, we don’t want there to be bias into the discussions we have. We don’t want people to feel intimidated and we feel that it’s important that we get the most level playing field for everybody who has comments on the program. The best way to do that, in our estimation, was to ensure that there were no officers in the schools at this time.”
Pilkey said the review will involve a board-wide survey of high school students and consultation with community members, teachers and principals.
"We had quite a long, respectful discussion among all trustees about how we would see this review working and what would be the best way to get the information and that’s what we want," she said.
"We need to take into account all of the voices, not just the people who yell the loudest and not just the people who go, ‘Ya it’s great.’ We need to hear from everybody."
A separate review of the SRO program was approved by the Toronto Police Service’s board at last week’s meeting and will be carried out by researchers at Ryerson University.
Speaking to CP24 Wednesday night, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the people he has spoken to about the program have had “nothing but positive comments.”
“It is not about enforcement. It is about engagement. It is about developing strong relationships and I have had so many cases where kids who were involved with school resource officers who are now adults… who are still contacting our school resource officers as mentors for guidance,” he said.
“I can tell you my officers are not lurking around in the hallways looking for people and asking them what their status is.”
He said the point of Ryerson's review is to hear from people on all sides of the issue.
“There are some people that do have criticisms towards it. We want to hear those criticisms towards it,” he said. “We are looking at improving the program and hopefully developing stronger relationships with students and with schools.”
Tory 'surprised' by board's decision
Mayor John Tory said Thursday that he was "very surprised" to learn the program had been suspended.
"I did not know that the meeting that was happening last night was going to make a decision and I was very surprised at that because I thought the school board would do as we are doing at the police services board, which is just having a very thorough review," he said. "They’ve chosen a different route."
The mayor added that he hopes the decision does not have a negative impact on students.
"I voted at the police service’s board to keep the program going while we studied it," Tory told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
"I was very much aware of the fact that there were concerns about the program that I’d heard myself first-hand and obviously read about, but I also knew there were a lot of people who supported this program as being something that fostered better community/ police relations and made a positive contribution in that regard."
Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said she supports the review but did not comment specifically on the removal of officers from schools.
"They want to take the time to look at evidence and be informed in making a decision moving forward," Hunter said Thursday.
"There are many reasons why officers are involved in school programs and that’s something that I’m sure will continue in the future. The format that it takes is something that the boards will have to decide."
An interim report on key findings is expected to be completed by researchers at Ryerson in January 2018.