JFCY supports the end of TDSB’s SRO Program; below is our letter to the Trustees.
November 20, 2017
Via email to ALL TRUSTEES of the Toronto District School Board
Re: School Resource Officer (SRO) Program
We are writing to express our opposition to the SRO program and to support calls for its immediate cancellation. Since its inception we have expressed concern that the SRO program promotes a negative and punitive approach to safety in schools at the expense of creating positive learning environments for all students. Like many community members, we are concerned about the impacts of an armed and uniformed police presence at TDSB schools on the well-being, safety, sense of self-worth and educational prospects of students, and in particular of Black, Indigenous, racialized, newcomer and undocumented students.
Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) is a specialty legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario. We have been providing legal services to low-income children and youth in diverse areas of the law, including in education, criminal, health, social services and immigration matters for almost 40 years. Over this time we have seen how intersecting systems of oppression and marginalization in the daily lives of our young clients play a large part in shaping their prospects and opportunities in life. Accordingly, we routinely engage in systemic advocacy and law reform efforts in matters not limited to education equity, anti-racism and access to justice, and have represented parties and intervened in all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada.
We have reviewed the results of the TDSB’s recent School Resource Officer Program Review (Report 11-17-3269) which followed extensive student/community consultations and wholly support the recommentation to permanently discontinue the SRO program. We are pleased with the Review’s recognition of the need to mitigate the discriminatory impact of the SRO program as described by students, families and communities historically excluded and discounted from institutional decision-making. We applaud the TDSB’s decision to respond to impacted students, parents and groups who are working on the frontlines towards equity in education, including Education not Incarceration and Black Lives Matter – Toronto. We request that as Trustees, you will follow suit and vote in favour of the Review’s recommendation to discontinue the SRO program.
Our own concerns about the SRO program stem from our direct experience representing young people in the justice system, especially school discipline, criminal and privacy matters. As we know, the SRO program was implemented, beginning in 2008, predominately in racialized and low-income neighbourhoods, with no community-based consultation or oversight. Disappointingly, this program and approach was chosen in spite of recommendations by two major community consultations on school safety and youth violence (Falconer Report and McMurtry-Curling Report respectively), both of which underscored the need to implement measures that address the social and educational needs of students by seeking to ameliorate social inequities and other ills. An anti-oppression framework would have seen programs that placed more front-line workers in schools – people with experience and expertise in working with youth from a social development perspective, as an effective method of creating safe, secure, and responsive school environments.
The placement of uniformed police officers has instead shifted school environments and cultures to places of increased surveillance, securitization, and criminalization. Instead of engaging students as meaningful participants in their own community, it excludes and alienates them, and has disproportionate negative impact on Black, Indigenous, racialized, newcomer and undocumented students. JFCY has seen how this has resulted in disparate and harsher school discipline outcomes, arrests and charges of students where SROs are present. In turn this contributes to greater mistrust by students and parents, and heightened fear among many of the young people we assist.
As has been expressed by others, in some cases our clients have avoided school altogether as a result of the real danger posed by the presence of SROs at their schools. For undocumented students (who have a legal right to attend public school under the Education Act), SRO presence puts them at risk of immigration arrest, detention and deportation, given the Toronto Police Service’s practice of sharing information with immigration enforcement officials. This is contrary to the TDSB’s own Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
While supporters of the SRO Program laud police efforts to “build relationships” with young people in the hallways of schools in “priority neighbourhoods,” these same students (and their families) often face racial profiling, police harassment and police violence in their communities. Schools should be safe spaces for learning and development for all students, not sites of police public relations efforts, recruitment and intelligence-gathering. An appropriate community building environment that promotes real safety for all students requires diverting resources given to policing in schools towards the hiring of guidance counsellors, social workers, child and youth workers and others trained in providing age and context-specific supports to young people.
We call on TDSB Trustees to pass a resolution to cancel the SRO program.
JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Mary Birdsell, Executive Director and
Karin Baqi, Staff Lawyer
John Malloy, Director of Education firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Spyropoulos, Executive Superintendent, Equity, Engagement and Well-Being email@example.com;
Jeewan Chanicka, Superintendent, Equity, Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression firstname.lastname@example.org;
Ted Libera, Central Coordinating Principal, Caring and Safe Schools email@example.com,
Mayor John Tory firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Pringle, Chair, Toronto Police Services Board email@example.com
Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto Police Service firstname.lastname@example.org
Education Not Incarceration, email@example.com
Black Lives Matter – Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org