Catholic board passes anti-racism plan but has no plans to end police liaison program
'This is a systemic issue and they have to deal with it in actionable ways,' says advocate
Hamilton's Catholic school board says it wants to hear from racialized students, boost anti-racism training and hire an equity officer, but it currently has no plans to follow its public counterpart by scrapping the police liaison program.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) voted during its meeting Monday night to terminate the program that sees officers in schools.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School board (HWCDSB) held its own meeting Tuesday night, but despite a sit down the day before with advocates who urged the board to end the program, chair Pat Daly said it will continue — at least for the time being.
During the board meeting HWCDSB trustees received a report on anti-racism education that provided four recommendations, according to Daly.
- That the board establish a committee including Black, Indigenous and racialized students, staff and parents to develop a report sharing their lived experiences and strategies to strengthen anti-racism education.
- That HR staff prepare a report for the early fall on hiring practices and ways to ensure all students can see themselves reflected in staff and school leadership.
- That the board immediately begin the process of hiring a system equity officer.
- That priority be given to system-wide professional development focused on anti-racism training and education.
The chair described the committee of students and staff as a "commitment to listen and to learn" and pointed to the equity officer as an acknowledgement that there was a need for something "immediate."
All four recommendations were unanimously passed by the board.
However, none of them directly applied to the calls for the end of the police liaison program.
That fact was not lost of Kojo Damptey, interim executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, who said he was one of the people who visited the board Monday along with HWDSB Kids Need Help to ask that they end the program.
"This is a systemic issue and they have to deal with it in actionable ways and not doing these reviews," he said, adding he believes "student voices will come forward and the program will be suspended."
Daly said he'd be "very, very surprised" if the program didn't come up.
"I'm sure the police liaison program is an issue that the committee would discuss," he explained, but noted he didn't want to "pre-judge" the topics they will look at.
Students are 'traumatized'
The chair of the public board said the program was terminated after a group of former and current students shared concerns about being uncomfortable around officers and "feeling targeted and intimated by having police in their schools."
Damptey referenced those issues and said the Catholic board's plans for a committee and report will only tell them what advocates already know — that the same concerns exist across both boards.
"We've heard from kids and we know, through lived experience, how these things work within the school system," he said.
"They go through school they are traumatized emotionally, psychologically, physically and yet we are not doing anything."
The program has been in place for decades and involved 11 officers who oversaw 196 schools, according to police Supt. Will Mason.
Officers were not posted to schools as part of the program, but were called in for reasons such as drug sweeps, lockdown drills, investigations and education sessions.
On Tuesday Mason said the service was "disappointed" by the public board's decision, but noted the program would be continuing at the city's other boards, including the HWCDSB.
"At this point it appears to be business as usual … for those other areas," he said at the time. "However, if there are things that come out of this that we can do better overall to serve those other areas we'll certainly look at implementing those things."