Police school resource officer program cancelled by Waterloo region's public school board
Trustee Mike Ramsay voted against halting program, says students and police 'largely not consulted'
Police will not be in Waterloo region's public schools this fall after trustees with the Waterloo Region District School Board voted to cancel the school resource officer program during a meeting Monday evening.
The program saw police officers in local schools as a way to connect students and staff with the police service, offer information to classrooms and offer mediation or conflict resolution. But critics have said there were concerns of increased risk of police surveillance of young people, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous or racialized, through the program.
The program was paused in June 2020 after the African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region and other groups called for police defunding and an end to the school program and a community outreach program with Waterloo regional police.
Other school boards have also announced reviews of their police school resource officer program, including in Hamilton, London, Ottawa and Peel region. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board also sent a letter to the province asking it to review and replace police liaison programs across Ontario.
Trustee Karen Meissner explained the committee looking at the school resource officer program started its work last summer and "headed down a typical pathway" in consultations.
It became very clear that we would be putting students at risk in order for them to prove their fear and prove the harm they have felt by the presence of police in schools.- Karen Meissner, WRDSB trustee
But she said student consultations were not done after they reviewed the results of similar consultations from other boards and found student consultations would likely lead to the same decision to cancel the program.
"It became very clear that we would be putting students at risk in order for them to prove their fear and prove the harm they have felt by the presence of police in schools," Meissner said.
She said they know there are students who feel less safe at school when police are there and that impacts their health and education.
"Their education should not be placed on hold when they see a cruiser in the parking lot or an officer walking through the hallways of their school or into their classroom," she said. "They should not be so focused on their safety that they cannot focus on their education."
Some concerned students not consulted
Trustee Scott Piatkowski said it wasn't just time to end the school resources program, the board should also "apologize for the impact that program has disproportionately had on Indigenous, Black and other racialized students."
He also said the region needs to put resources into local schools "that will meet some of the objectives that the [student resource officer] program was originally designed to meet but quite frankly, should not be delivered by people wearing a uniform, wearing a badge and carrying a gun."
But not everyone agreed with the direction the board was going. Student trustee Tristan John-Jandles said the trustees needed to "empower students to guide our decisions" and he wanted to see consultation with students done before any decision was made.
Trustee Mike Ramsay agreed with John-Handles that consultations with students was necessary.
"This is about our 65,000 students, each and every one," he said, adding he felt the recommendations in the board report that were "emotionally based and not evidence based."
"Two main groups affected by recommendations — students and police — were largely not consulted," Ramsay said.
"The committee has avoided talking to students and police but had time for presentations and information from other boards and communities with much different demographics than our board."
In the end, the board voted eight to two in favour of ending the student resource officer program with one trustee abstaining from the vote.
The two student trustees also voted, but their votes are only recorded for the purpose of public record. John-Jandles voted against the motion. Rowan McDonald abstained from the vote.
Decision 'disappointing and upsetting'
Waterloo Regional Police Services Chief Bryan Larkin called the decision by the trustees "disappointing and upsetting."
"For more than 30 years, our members have been connecting and fostering positive relationships with youth, families and school staff within Waterloo region," he said in a statement.
There were 10 school resource officers who worked in 240 elementary and secondary schools in the region in 2019, Larkin said.
"They have dedicated themselves to keeping schools and students safe, to educating youth, and to building trustworthy partnerships among police, the school, and the community," he said.
He said the police service remains proud of the work that was done by school resource officers.
Larkin added the service is prepared to listen and learn "and are committed to further discussions on delivering service differently that will benefit the entire community." He says that includes conversations with the school board and the community as a whole.
- An earlier version of this story said two trustees abstained from the vote, which was incorrect. One trustee abstained.Jun 23, 2021 8:06 AM ET