A report headed to Thames Valley District School Board trustees on Tuesday recommends that the board pause its school resource office (SRO) program for at least one year to allow for “further study.”
The program has been called into question over concerns that the presence of police officers in schools could trigger feelings of anxiety for Black and Indigenous students and amid ongoing calls to address systemic racism in education, policing, and beyond.
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“Our top priority is to create learning environments where students feel supported and safe. I want to apologize to any student who feels we have failed to fulfill our duty to them,” education director Mark Fisher said in a statement on Monday.
“While the review found value in the program, it’s also clear that presence of School Resource Officers can be triggering and make it hard for some students to be at school.”
The TVDSB and the London District Catholic School Board announced in October 2020 that they would be reviewing the SRO program. The review included feedback from students, parents and graduates of both the public and Catholic boards through a community-wide survey.
The public board says the recommendation to pause the program was “unanimously endorsed” by the team overseeing the review, which included leaders from Black, Indigenous and other community members of colour as well as the TVDSB and LDCSB and representatives “from all area police services.”
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N’Amerind Friendship Centre executive director Al Day said the review reaffirms that “many of our young people have been mistreated.”
“I support the pause in the SRO program and the work of creating together, led by the voices of Indigenous, Black and Youth of Colour, a new, better way of having youth and police interact.”
Munsee Delaware Nation education coordinator Dr. Oscar V. Correia believes the program is important and should continue but “further training would be required. I strongly support the recommendations outlined in the SRO Program Review.”
Maya Mark, a parent and an advocate for the Black community, said that in order to realize the kind of change that is needed, “we need to delve much deeper into what this committee has started.”
“More conversations need to be had and more truths, some more difficult than others, need to be faced and accepted.”
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From the police perspective, London police chief Steve Williams said the service needs “to listen to the voices of those who have been negatively impacted by police, particularly young people from BIPOC communities.”
“We believe that by working together, we can create better ways to serve our school communities which is vital for improved relationships moving forward,” Williams said.
St. Thomas police chief Chris Herridge said that “there is clearly a substantiated need for change.”
“In order to move forward, we need to develop a truly transparent relationship that builds confidence in the program and certainly in all students that are in the schools.”
The results of the review, as well as the recommendation to pause the program, will be presented to TVDSB trustees on Tuesday.
Global News has reached out to the LDCSB to ask about the status of its SRO program but had yet to receive a response by publication time.
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