Louis Riel School Division reviewing use of police in schools, impact on communities of colour

A Winnipeg school division is asking staff, students and parents what they think about police in schools, with a particular emphasis on the effect on communities of colour.

Review follows cut of school resource officer program from Winnipeg School Division budget

The Louis Riel School Division board of trustees says it wants to have a better understanding of the impact of the school resource officer program in the division. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A Winnipeg school division is asking staff, students and parents what they think about police in schools, with a particular emphasis on the effect on communities of colour.

The Louis Riel School Division is undertaking a review of its school resource officer (SRO) program, it announced on Tuesday.

Supt. Christian Michalik said the review is "long overdue."

"Just the very presence of an SRO in a school can be problematic for some," he said. "I need to hear from students, staff, parents who've had a direct experience."

The division hired Fadi Ennab, an urban and inner city studies instructor at the University of Winnipeg, to review the program.

A short online survey built by Ennab was sent out to the school division community on Monday, and those who indicate they are open to further discussions will be part of one-on-one interviews and focus groups, Michalik said. 

Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division, says he wants to know how students, staff, parents and guardians are affected by the school resource officer program to determine next steps. (Submitted by the Louis Riel School Division)

The survey, which asks respondents about their racial identity as well as experience with the school officers, will be open until April 19, and the final report will be released publicly in the summer, he said.

"I'm hoping to hear from members of the community that might not have shared their experiences were it not for the approach we're taking with the survey," Michalik said.

Biggest school division axes program

The province's largest school division's 2021-22 budget, passed in March, eliminated over half a million dollars in funding for its school resource officer program.

The Winnipeg School Division board requested a review of the school resource officer program last fall. That led to a survey of views among parents and students in January and February.

However, spokesperson Radean Carter said in March the results of the review have not yet been shared with the board. The cut was based only on the "need to make significant cuts to balance the budget," Carter said in a statement.

Michalik said there is just one school resource officer in the Louis Riel School Division, and the program costs the division about $60,000 a year in a budget of more than $200 million.

The board of trustees is simply seeking more information to make a decision about the program — which could include enhancing or cancelling it, Michalik said.

"This type of research is something that is long overdue," he said. "We need to know what's the lived experience."

In September, a group called Police-Free Schools called on school divisions to remove police officers from public schools in the city, as global social and racial justice movements spread after the death of George Floyd one year ago.

Video revealed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing on the neck of Floyd, an unarmed Black man, for almost nine minutes before he died. 

The killing was one of a number of deadly incidents involving police last year that served as catalysts for public protests and calls for police reform and abolishment, including in Manitoba.

In September, Winnipeg city councillors voted to renew a contract with divisions that puts officers in schools, though the vote wasn't unanimous. 

That contract covers 19 Winnipeg police officers spread across schools in the city with in-kind support totalling almost $3 million.