Ottawa's largest school board votes to end police presence in schools
Recent report highlights concerns about discrimination, wellness checks from community
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) wants to "immediately and completely" end the presence of police officers in schools.
The board passed a motion during a meeting Monday night, which followed almost a year of public consultation and debate that began with a motion from OCDSB trustee Lyra Evans.
School boards in Ottawa pay resource officers, who have been the only full-time police presence at OCDSB schools. There has been recent pushback against the program due to reports of a strained relationship between officers and some students and families.
In addition to eliminating the resource officer program, the school board passed two other motions on Monday related to the program:
- To issue a public apology "to the communities and students who have been harmed".
- To have the board write a letter asking the City of Ottawa to reallocate the funds from the program to the creation of a mobile crisis team for youth, with no involvement from police.
The board of trustees will make a final decision at a meeting scheduled for June 22 and a revised policy is expected in the fall.
Students and families fearful, says report
Monday night's vote follows a report from the Human Rights and Equity Advisory that identified a number of concerns identified by secondary school students, parents, staff and both current and past SROs assigned to both schools.
The report noted "each consultation highlighted vivid examples where this policy has worsened the relationships of various stakeholders — students, parents, and members of the wider community — with the police."
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"It is important to consider the ongoing and historical role that systemic racism plays within the context of education and policing," the report read.
It also identified the practice of wellness checks, which are initiated by administrators, where an SRO would visit a student's home if they had been absent for a period of time and contact couldn't be made with their family.
One person interviewed recounted a particular wellness check, after which "the racialized family was completely fearful and stopped talking to the teacher."
Call for accountability and transparency
The Ottawa Police Service has previously defended the program. Supt. Jamie Dunlop said in March that the SRO program helps Ottawa police understand the different issues facing each school.
"Every school is in a different environment, in a different geographic location, has different issues," he said. "Having an officer that's responsible just for that location is very important for a more timely response."
The report concluded the board should end its participation in the program. It also recommended the board revise its contractual commitments, policies and procedures to limit police involvement at schools to only when it's necessary.
It also said accountability and transparency mechanisms need to be put in place for all police involvement at schools moving forward.
On Tuesday, former Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau also tweeted a thank you message to all former resource officers in response to the OCDSB decision.
A partnership isn’t viable when a key partner (<a href="https://twitter.com/OCDSB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OCDSB</a> ) no longer wants you at the table. To all <a href="https://twitter.com/OttawaPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OttawaPolice</a> officers who have worked as SROs , thank you for the invaluable contribution you have made in supporting youth, parents and teachers. You’ve made a difference.—@ChiefBordeleau
The school board's partnership with Ottawa police will be suspended as revisions to the policy take place.
- A previous version of this story wrongly said the motion was to end the school resource officer program at just two schools. The motion aims to end the program entirely.Jun 15, 2021 7:41 AM ET