Apology for program that saw police in schools issued by Waterloo region's public board
It's 'a starting place of wanting to heal,' says board chairperson Joanne Weston
The Waterloo Region District School Board says it is sorry for any harm a program that saw uniformed police officers in schools may have caused students or their families.
The school resource officer (SRO) program was put on hold in June 2020 to be reviewed. Last month, the board of trustees voted to end it. The trustees cited concerns from students and staff who felt fear and anxiety by the presence of officers in schools, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour.
"The move to end the program aligns with our commitment to ensuring that our schools are welcoming and supportive learning environments for each and every one of our students," the board said in a statement on its website Tuesday. The full text can be viewed at the bottom of this story.
"We apologize, unreservedly, to the students and communities who have been harmed."
Apology a starting place
Joanne Weston, chair of the board, said the apology was "a starting place of wanting to heal."
"It was the first step to repair relationships with the students and their families that had experienced harm with the program," she said in an interview.
After trustees voted to cancel the program, Waterloo Regional Police Services Chief Bryan Larkin called the decision "disappointing and upsetting."
The 10 school resource officers who worked in 240 elementary and secondary schools in the region in 2019 "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 at the time.
Larkin said he looked forward to speaking with the school board about the decision and learning from it.
Weston says because it's summer, those discussions haven't happened yet, but it's expected they will take place this fall.
'We have more work to do'
Weston said she's pleased the board has been able to get important work done over the course of the past year, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
"I'm proud of where we're at right now. And we have more work to do and I think this group of trustees and this board will move forward with them," she said.
The board has also pledged to review all the names of schools and other buildings to ensure they align with a new policy under development and expected to be passed later this year.
"I think we're in a good spot. We reviewed the SRO program and made a decision on that. The school naming is in process and that will be moving forward in the fall. Now we have a really solid policy where we can work from," she said.
On June 28, 2021, the Board of Trustees of the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) ratified recommendations, from the School Resource Officer (SRO) Review Committee, to end the SRO program. The SRO program had been suspended since June 2020, and the move to end the program aligns with our commitment to ensuring that our schools are welcoming and supportive learning environments for each and every one of our students.
Members of the committee heard that both the presence of police and how and when they are used in schools can create a sense of fear, increased anxiety and vulnerability for some, and especially Black, Indigenous, and racialized students. The fact that any student felt this way is not acceptable. We apologize, unreservedly, to the students and communities who have been harmed.
The Board is grateful to the students who shared their experiences before and during the review and to the committee for their work and dedication to creating inclusive spaces for our students and everyone in our community. Given the disproportionate impact on some of our most vulnerable students, it was important to end the school resource officer program in our schools.
As the WRDSB moves forward, we will work with the Waterloo Region Police Services to create a procedure that clarifies and limits the role of police in schools.
Our focus remains on addressing systemic barriers and building a community culture that is safe, equitable, and just for students and staff. This can be seen in the ongoing work of our Indigenous, Equity, and Human Rights Department, including the recently adopted Human Rights Policy, and through our increased budget to support our work in equity, anti-racism, and mental health supports.
Through compassion and collaboration, the WRDSB will continue our work toward addressing and eradicating systemic racism so each and every one of our students can reach their full potential.