OCDSB defunds police officers at 2 urban schools
Student resource officers to be removed from Gloucester, Ridgemont high schools
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is pulling funding for dedicated police officers at two urban high schools and redirecting the money toward programs that benefit marginalized students.
"It's important for us to remember that the police are not bastions of safety for many members of our community," said Rideau-Vanier/Capital trustee Lyra Evans, who proposed the amendment to remove the officers from Ridgemont and Gloucester high schools.
Evans said the presence of police officers in the school corridors causes stress for many students at the two schools.
"We know the police have a racism problem. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves. And knowing that, we still chose to hire two police officers out of funds intended for students' education to be in our most marginalized schools full time," Evans said.
The 2020-21 Ottawa police budget allots funding for 29 school resource officers (SROs), who work in public schools across the city. School boards sometimes contribute additional funding for the officers.
The officers provide counselling and other services, but are also on hand to intervene in criminal activity in schools.
The $96,000 that paid for the officers at the two schools will instead be redistributed under the board's Urban Priority High School Framework, which funds programs in schools that are experiencing challenges.
Trustee Chris Ellis, whose area includes Ridgemont High School, said the mere presence of a police cruiser at the school sends the wrong message to the community. He said he would receive several calls asking if there had been a crime, when it was just the SRO visiting.
"I think that speaks to the perception and how it could be seen as affecting racism, and that in the community at large, thinking that crime is taking place at a school when that's not the case," he said
Brett Reynolds, the OCDSB's associate director of education, said the SRO initiative was originally launched to improve the relationship between students and police.
"So they wouldn't be spending a lot of their time dealing with the responsive side of police business, but instead they could invest more of their time developing relationships in those schools," Reynolds said.
Student defends SROs
Reynolds said many of the officers who were selected for the program were themselves from racialized communities.
A student from West Carleton Secondary School who spoke at Thursday's OCDSB board meeting defended the program.
"Placing restrictions on officer interactions with racialized students says to everybody, 'If you're white, you don't need to worry,'" said Abdullah Al-Ogaidi.
The two schools will continue to have access to SROs who are already part of the citywide program, as well as social workers and counsellors.