After years of controversy, Canada’s largest school board finally voted to end a program that placed armed, uniformed officers in dozens of schools across the district.
Toronto District School Board members on Wednesday, Nov. 22, voted 18-3 in favor of scrapping its School Resource Officer program, CBC News reported. One person did not vote.
The “tough” decision comes just weeks after a report by board staff earlier this month that suggested ending the program after it found that the police presence made some students feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Fifty–seven percent of those surveyed for the report had positive opinions about the program, but 10 percent of students (about 2,000 or five full schools) strongly disagreed with it.
“Over recent months, we have listened to marginalized voices that have not always been heard,” school board chair Robin Pilkey said in a statement. “We’ve heard loud and clear that the SRO program isn’t welcome by a significant number of our students, and that is why we’ve made the difficult decision to end the program at the TDSB.”
The program, which placed school resource officers in 45 TDSB high schools, was started in 2008, one year after ninth-grade student Jordan Manners was fatally shot at C.W. Jeffery’s Collegiate, according to the news station. The SRO program drew strong criticisms from the community and local activists, who’d long made demands to ax it as a means of addressing anti-Black racism in the school system.
Now, members of Black Lives Matter Toronto and other community organizations are applauding the school board’s decision, calling it a “victory.”
“As an educator in the TDSB, I’m proud to be a part of the first school board in Canada to eliminate the SRO program,” teacher and BLM Toronto activist Leroi Newbold said during a press conference Thursday, adding that Black parents could now send their kids to school without fear.
Phillip Morgan with the group Education Not Incarceration expressed similar sentiments and noted that he’d spoken with several students who said they felt unsafe with police at their schools.
“They’ve had interactions with SROs in the hallways where they have been stopped for no reason, so they feel targeted, they feel profiled,” Morgan said. “And this just pushes them out of the education system.”
Others in the community were not so glad to see the program go, however. City leaders including Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack have been vocal supporters of continuing the SRO program, with McCormack calling Wednesday’s vote a “superficial exercise.” He pointed to the fact that the majority of students approved of the program and that the officers stationed at the schools would be greatly disappointed, as they were “very dedicated and very passionate” to mending the relationships between the youth and police.
“It’s too bad that they chose to ignore the value of the SRO program, it’s a shame” he told CBC Toronto. “And I think that they’ll live to regret that decision at some point.”
Toronto school board director John Malloy said that while it has decided to end the SRO program, it will continue working with the Toronto police on shared issues.
“Moving forward, we will also support our staff and engage our students to continue providing caring and safe schools for all,” he said.