TDSB: Don’t bring back the SRO programme
Jahiem Robinson, 18 fatally shot at David and Mary Thompson February 14 this year
Jefferson Peter Shardely Guerrier, 18 killed outside of Woburn CI October 31 of this year; a fifteen year-old teen seriously injured
A seventeen year-old, as yet unidentified student, stabbed at Birchmount CI On November 14 and taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries
Safiullah Khosrawi, 15 shot to death outside Woburn CI in January 2020
To Toronto District School Board Senior Staff and Trustees:
The most recent killings and injuries of children in or near our schools is far beyond tragic. They amount to a disaster that counters everything you, as educators, set out to accomplish. It is the dreadful opposite of education and surely, most people understand the awful choices you face in trying to figure out what to do.
The immediacy of these tragedies places enormous pressure on you all to act right away to stop the violence and certainly be seen to be doing something- anything, really – that will reassure all of us who care about children and schools in our city. I know you are going to discuss this issue at a special Planning and Priorities Meeting on Monday December 5 and that the possibility of returning to the School Resource Officer (SRO) programme has been raised again.
You must resist the temptation to act precipitously and invite armed police officers back into schools to provide the appearance of safety at the TDSB. To do this is, at best, putting a band-aid over an infected wound. It will look like you’ve done something, but the wound will only fester.
Rather than calling police back into schools, please consider:
- Your decision in 2017 to end the SRO programme. TDSB chair of the time, Robin Pilkey wrote that 2 000 students from 45 schools that had contact with SRO programmes, objected to having them. Even though, these were a minority of kids, the TDSB listened to them and with good reason. The programme operated in parts of the city with a high proportion of racialized and low-income people who weren’t consulted about the decision to place police in the neighbourhood schools. It targeted them regardless of stated intentions.
- The recommendations of the THE ROAD TO HEALTH: A FINAL REPORT ON SCHOOL SAFETY or the Falconer Report that came out after the tragic death of Jordan Manners in May 2007. Over 100 recommendations focused on safety audits, bringing in social and child/youth workers to help students in higher risk schools to avoid the confrontations that lead to retribution and violence. They called on the Board to reach out and strengthen communities while maintaining schools. They did not, however, mention anything like the School Resource Officer programme. On the contrary, the Falconer report made special mention of the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris that passed the Safe Schools Act, a zero tolerance approach aimed, like SROs, to ensure compliance : “the original Safe Schools Act and the impact it had on marginalized youth, particularly African Canadian youth, is a stark example of the fall-out from this Government policy. The punitive approach that preached resort to mass suspensions and other forms of conventional discipline for complex-needs youth reached its zenith with the zero tolerance philosophy that dominated the early years of the Safe Schools Act amendments enacted in 2002. ”
- The situation school boards face as a result of Ford government policies. Measures to increase class sizes and cut teachers were introduced in 2019. The province slashed a $235 million special education fund. The TDSB like other school boards, has seen funding dwindle that, as you know all too well, has meant reductions to valuable programmes that provide music, outdoor education and tutoring to underserved students. You have had to decrease the number of lunchroom supervisors. In spite of schools facing dire maintenance problems during the 2019-21 school years, the board lost caretakers and trade staff. It’s small wonder that the students of York Memorial CI who walked out of class on Friday, were protesting, among other problems, the physical conditions at their school.
School budgets were pared, along with support services to kids with special needs – the very students most vulnerable to being involved in horrific events we’ve seen recently.
As all of these cuts harm education, the Ford government continues to reduce per student expenditure – by $800 for 2022-23. It’s clear that it intends to carry on its policies of austerity and privatization in education.
There is little doubt that budget cuts have exacerbated a deeply troubling situation with school violence that has existed for many years. The answer cannot be to send police into schools in order to keep a lid on a problem which is so clearly affected by choices made by governments at all levels.
4. The COVID pandemic which has made a bad situation worse for students. Despite significant funding from the Federal government, the Ford government opted to support online or hybrid learning rather than reduce class sizes to enable more children to attend school in person. If this made it harder for most students to learn, it was even more difficult for those without access to additional supports at a time when students’ and families’ mental health came under severe strain. It is going to take a lot of effort and resources to help kids return to some kind of normalcy in their academic and social growth. Re-introducing police officers will only add to the stress in high-needs schools, as students who have done nothing to warrant it, realize they are under increasing surveillance simply because they are there.
In a 2017 article in Briarpatch, Philip Dwight Morgan cited researcher Gita Madan noting that the blatant nature of police presence in schools, creates “ a culture of control that constantly codes the bodies of racialized students in particular ways, teaching students about themselves and their place within the hierarchy of the school. It also sends a clear message to the broader school community about the students who attend the school.” Police officers are not support workers; their job is to control and detain people they deem to require it.
So, educators of the TDSB, please put effort – and money – toward supports for schools: social workers, child and youth workers, extra teachers where needed, staff to monitor hallways, community liaison workers and strong administrators who can be trusted to make decisions about management of their schools without fear of being hobbled by senior staff whose focus on critical issues invariably includes bureaucratic responses like “safe school audit teams,” or “formalizing networks of existing experts.”
Resist the pressure to react – please don’t reinstate the SRO programme.