The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted 18-3 in favour of ending a controversial program that placed police officers in some Toronto schools after a report found the program left some students feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.
The vote came on behalf of the full board, with one trustee not voting due to a conflict of interest. The planning committee voted to end the program last week.
The report from Canada’s largest school board followed a six-week period during which students, staff and parents at the affected schools were surveyed and student focus groups and community meetings were held to assess the School Resource Officer program.
The program, which was suspended at the end of August, saw police officers deployed at 45 TDSB high schools in an effort to improve safety and perceptions of police. It was implemented in 2008 after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute the previous year.
TDSB chair Robin Pilke said before the vote Wednesday that although the general consensus was that people were in favour of the program (15,000 students were surveyed), 2,000 students said that they had felt targeted or watched or intimidated by the officers being present in the schools.
“School should be a safe place for all students not just a majority of them,” Pilke said.
While the report endorsed the discontinuation of the program, it recommended that the school board and police should continue to work together to “build a partnership that honours the voices of all students.”
Trustee Jennifer Story was amongst those supporting the recommendation and felt it was important to honour those who feel impacted.
“It is not enough to just measure how many students are in favour of or against having SROs in schools,” Story said while speaking before the vote.
“What is most important is to look at the most impacted and how to create the environments that those people need to increase their sense of security belonging and support in our schools.”
Trustee Gerri Gershon would have liked to keep police officers in schools and felt she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t speak about her ‘profound disappointment’ about the staff recommendation.
Gershon felt more data and statistics were needed to make an educated decision.
“What do SROs do in our school? How many individual contexts do they have in a day, in a month? How many positive interactions do they have? How many negative interactions do they have?”
Toronto’s police services board is also reviewing the program, with the assessment being carried out by Ryerson University.
President of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack took to social media late Wednesday night to express his disappointment in the TDSB decision, saying it’s “a huge step backwards for students, our members and the community.”
“We need to build bridges, not tear them down.”
—With files from The Canadian Press and Briana Carnegie, AM640