Community residents and activists are applauding a long-awaited decision to ban Toronto Police officers from the hallways of Canada’s largest school board.
Trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted a whopping 18 to 3 last Wednesday in favour of cancelling the controversial School Resource Officer (SRO) program, in which officers were stationed in 45 public schools.
The results of the vote was greeted with cheers and applause from the more than 100 concerned parents and spectators who had gathered for the lengthy meeting.
Members of the community had been warning that the presence of armed police officers on school grounds had undermined some of the city’s most vulnerable youth.
“We have heard loud and clear that the SRO program is not welcome by a significant number of our students and that’s why we’ve made the difficult decision to end the program,” Robin Pilkey, chair of the board, said in a statement afterwards.
Trustee Marit Stiles was one of those who voted to cancel the program.“I think it’s a really important moment,” Stiles told reporters. “The community has been telling us all along the program has been problematic.”
The decision followed recommendations by TDSB staff, who called for a termination of the program due to results of a six-week review and input from thousands of students, staff, parents and community members.
The survey was completed by 15,500 students with police in their schools. It found that a majority of teens reported being satisfied with the SRO program, or had no opinion. TDSB staff concluded that the thousands of students who said that having officers at school made them feel uncomfortable, intimidated and targeted were too significant to dismiss.
The program is still operating in about two-thirds of the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s secondary schools and similar programs are in place in other Ontario cities.
The SRO program was launched in 2008, one year after Grade 9 student Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate. He was 15.
The program has drawn sharp criticism from groups as Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO), which has made demands to scrap it as one measure to address anti-black racism in the education system.
The group, in a statement, called the TDSB decision historic and one that creates new possibility for Black children,
“Ten years of ongoing resistance, community engagement, data collection and consultation-fatigue have resulted in the interruption of the school-to-prison pipeline,” BLMTO members said.
They called for an end of all SRO programs operating in schools across Ontario.
The Toronto Police Services Board (TDSB) will also decide in a meeting later this month whether to continue with the program.
The Board has called on Ryerson University to conduct an assessment of the SRO program.
Protests by Black Lives Matter last June delayed a debate on the fate of the program, after which the TPSB voted to defer its decision until December.
The end of the SRO program means officers posted to TDSB high schools last year will not return there for regular duties. They had not been in schools this year because the board suspended the SRO program in August pending its review.
The move has angered Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack who claimed it was “anti-police” and a big loss for students and the policing community.
Mayor John Tory called the TDSB decision “unfortunate” because they were made before the Ryerson assessment was concluded.
The TDSB is the largest school board in Canada and one of the largest in North America with nearly 600 schools. It has more than 38,000 staff members who serve some 246,000 students each year.
Almost 25% of its students were born outside Canada and speak more than 120 languages. It has more than 1,700 international students, according to board information.
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