The Current

Do police belong in schools?

Families and activists in Toronto are fighting to have police taken out of schools, saying it criminalizes youth. But defenders believe they make schools safer.
Following the fatal shooting of Jordan Manners at a Toronto high school, police assigned officers to 75 schools across the city. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

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In cities across Canada, police officers are patrolling schoolyards and hallways. They're called school resource officers and they're supposed to improve relations between students and cops. But critics say it's doing the opposite and that schools are no place for police.

Members of the Toronto Police Services Board held a meeting on June 15 to consider whether to suspend the controversial School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Protesters interrupted the meeting, calling for an end to the program entirely. The board voted to defer their decision until the end of the year.

Following the fatal high school shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Manners, Toronto police assigned officers to 75 different schools across the city.

Andrea Vasquez Jimenez is the co-chair of the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network, one of the groups leading the fight against police presence in Toronto schools.

Our children are not people that are to be criminalized, and police presence within schools does that.- Andrea Vasquez Jimenez

She believes SROs are not educators, so there is no justification or rationalization to have them "within the confines of our children, youth and student classrooms and schools."

She refers to this notion as the "school-to- prison pipeline," meaning police presence in schools increases the charging, arrests and incarceration of youth.

"It definitely puts them into the … database of police, which is very much dangerous for our children and youth," she tells The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"Our children are not people that are to be criminalized, and police presence within schools does that," she says. 
A Toronto police officer directs students from Central Technical School as they were finally released after being in lockdown for most of the afternoon as gun shots were fired at the school in Toronto on Thursday, September 30, 2010. No one was injured. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Vasquez Jimenez suggests officers were put in "targeted" Toronto schools, where the populations have a particularly high number of students who are black, Indigenous and people of colour.

"It's very much connected to racism and it's the targeting and surveillance of our most marginalized populations in these neighbourhoods," she says.

When asked about SROs who develop positive relationships with students, Vasquez Jimenez points out those are the exception, not the norm.

"The bottom line is, it's a systemic issue. It's not about a couple of good apples here and there," she explains.

"Police are replacing and essentially doing the jobs that our social workers, our guidance counsellors, our child and youth workers, our teachers should be doing."

Angela Kennedy, the chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), argues that the role of the police officer is to be a mentor and role model to students, and they are not there to replace educators.

"We have our teachers. We have our social workers. We have our guidance counsellors," she tells Chattopadhyay.

He or she is there to act as a community partner.- Angela Kennedy

"The education dollar is not going very far these days. We could use more, but that's not the job of the police officer," she says.

"He or she is there to act as a community partner."

She says teachers and students have given positive feedback on the SRO program, saying it is important to have officers who serve as authority figures and work in liaison with teachers.

"We're consistently attempting to develop strong relationships with our school communities," she says.

"I think that it's an ongoing issue and we're committed to ensuring the safety of our students."

Listen to the debate at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar and Willow Smith.