TORONTO – A report by staff at Canada’s largest school board recommends eliminating a controversial program that placed police officers in certain Toronto schools after finding the scheme left some students feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.
The report from staff at the Toronto District School Board follows 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 report, which is subject to approval by board trustees, said the program should be discontinued, but the board should continue to work with police to ensure a safe school environment.
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.
Critics of the program argued that armed officers in schools intimidate students. They also raised concerns about racial and anti-immigrant bias.
The TDSB staff report said the review of the program found the majority of those surveyed had a generally positive impression.
However, it noted, some felt intimidated by having an officer in the school or felt uncomfortable or that they were being watched at school.
The report said the program should be eliminated to ensure all students can learn in schools that are “safe, discrimination-free, and that protect their human rights.”
Although staff putting together the report heard from a significant number who supported the presence of an officer in their school, as well as many who were unaware of the program or felt unaffected by it, the board’s priority must be “to mitigate against the differentiated and discriminatory impact of the SRO program” as described by students and communities.
The report also noted that eliminating the program will not be without challenges.
The TDSB must “address the serious concerns brought forward by a significant number of our students, while continuing to keep our schools safe and welcoming for all,” it said.
Fifty-seven per cent of respondents said having an officer in school made them feel safer.
“It’s good in case there is a serious situation where someone could get dangerously injured. SROs don’t really harass people in the school. They ask you what is the problem,” one student said.
But 10 per cent surveyed strongly disagreed.
“When someone sees you talking to the police, they think you are a snitch. And that’s it. Your life is over,” one said.
The report said while it was recommending the discontinuation of the program in its current form, “staff will continue to work with police on order to build a partnership (with police) that honours the voices of all students.”
Toronto’s police services board is also reviewing program, with the assessment being carried out by Ryerson University.