Ottawa

Some parents pan plan to cut police officers from 2 Ottawa schools

Some parents want the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to reconsider a plan to defund dedicated officers at two urban high schools, and instead conduct thorough consultations before making any decisions.

OCDSB proposal would defund school resource officers at Gloucester, Ridgemont high schools

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is expected to pass its final budget this week. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

Some parents want the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to reconsider a plan to defund dedicated officers at two urban high schools, and instead conduct thorough consultations before making any decisions.

Earlier this month, the OCDSB passed a budget amendment to pull funding for two school resource officers (SROs) at Gloucester and Ridgemont high schools and redirect the money toward the board's urban priority high school framework, which funds programs for marginalized students.

"I think it's a mistake when they haven't consulted with the school community," said Marty Carr, vice-president of the Ridgemont school council. She believes SROs are important to the school environment, and has been hearing from other parents who are upset they were not consulted about the cuts.

"If it was determined that most students did not feel safe with the SRO and, in fact, that it was a deterrent to safe schools, then absolutely we would not want the SRO present," she said. "But we cannot make a decision, a program decision, on a budget vote without consulting the impacted communities."

Marty Carr, vice-president of the Ridgemont School Council, says the community should have been consulted before the board made the decision to defund the officers.

Trustee disappointed by reaction

Trustee Lyra Evans brought forward the original amendment, arguing that police officers in schools made marginalized students feel unsafe, and that the board should not pay for those officers.

Evans admits she didn't consult with school councils, but said she did speak with several marginalized community groups and former student trustees who called for an end to the SRO program.

She said those groups have lauded her efforts and, since voting for the amendment, feel the board is finally taking their concerns seriously.  

"I was really trying to hear from the people whose voices are often underrepresented when it comes to conversations about police," she said 

"For the school board to immediately walk back that decision, I think, would do reputational damage."

Other trustees weigh in 

The two trustees who represent the areas where the schools are located are of two minds.

Sandra Schwartz, trustee for Innes/Beacon Hill-Cyrville which encompasses Gloucester High School, said she has been hearing mixed reviews about the SRO program — with some people approving of it, while others are against it.

Despite voting in favour of the budget amendment initially, she doesn't plan to support it in the final budget vote and believes consultation is needed.

"I want to make sure that we're not eliminating a position that many have told me has been invaluable in the school community, before we actually conduct [an] appropriate and fulsome review of the position and of the program."

She said trustees understood that individual schools could decide to hire their own SRO with the reallocted money, if they chose. But since the vote, Schwartz said she's learned that if the money for the SROs is taken away, it may be difficult for a school to negotiate with Ottawa police to reinstate the officer.

The Ottawa Police Service was not available for comment before publication.

Trustee Chris Ellis, who represents Rideau - Rockcliffe/Alta Vista, which encompasses Ridgemont High School, is of a different mindset.

"It is, in my opinion, that it can be an impediment for those at-risk students to see school as a safe place," he said.

"Their communities are over policed, and then they go to school [and] your school is over policed."

The final vote on the school board's budget is expected to happen later this week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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