The SRO [police in Toronto schools] program is over. What happens next? Phillip Dwight Morgan

The activist view:

In 2008, without community consultation, the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Police Service agreed to place police officers in select high schools around the city. The result was a program where some Black and Brown students said they felt targeted, harassed and intimidated, and where some undocumented students reportedly feared for their safety.

Since its inception, the School Resource Officer (SRO) program has faced allegations of racism and discrimination as community members and organizations have questioned how a program that placed police in the schools of largely racialized communities could possibly improve circumstances for youth already being pushed out by academic streaming, increased suspension rates and low teacher expectations. As time passed, the picture became clearer: SROs largely intimidated, harassed and criminalized Black, Brown and Indigenous youth, and allegedly threatened the safety of undocumented students.

That program is now over. At a Nov. 22 meeting, after a six-week review process, trustees from the largest school board in Canada voted overwhelmingly to terminate the program.

Make no mistake: the landmark decision is the result of years of pressure from students, parents, youth workers and concerned citizens. These people repeatedly reminded the board that it was utterly unacceptable to accept Black, Brown, Indigenous and undocumented youth as collateral damage in the push to improve Toronto’s schools. “It is time for school boards across the province and country to acknowledge the ways in which educational policies and practices continue to be shaped by ongoing histories of colonialism and racism,” says Gita Rao Madan, who studied policing in schools for her master’s thesis at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Still, how did a program with such a terrible track record continue for nearly a decade? The sad fact of the matter is that the people most affected by the program were those at the intersection of two deeply oppressive institutions—policing and education—that routinely worked to silence them. Those people, who faced harassment and profiling both inside the classroom and out on the street, had little access to the levers of change.

In response to community concern in the past, the TDSB and TPS had deflected criticism by pointing to so-called “success stories” from the program—accounts of students who loved the baking club being run by Officer Jane or the volleyball team coached by Const. Jim. These are the narratives and images that the TPS and TDSB offered to the public whenever the program faced scrutiny. Now that the program has been terminated, its supporters will likely evoke these images with even greater verve.

But a line of reasoning that asks communities to ignore the experiences of children being pushed out of schools and to instead celebrate the child who loves Officer Jim betrays a failed understanding of the history of community policing in Toronto on the part of those in positions of power. It shows a reluctance to concede that carding, police harassment, intimidation and violence do not stop at the school’s entrance. It is not rooted in equity. Earlier this May, Police Chief Mark Saunders responded to concerns expressed about the program at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting by noting that a 2011 evaluation of the program showed 58 per cent of students felt safer with SROs. In response, TPS Board member Dhun Noria injected an important reminder: “You mentioned, chief, that 58 per cent of the respondents felt safe [with SROs]. This leaves 42 per cent who do not feel safe. Do we have a report about that? Why do they not feel safe and what have we done about that?”

via The SRO program is over. What happens next? – Macleans.ca

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to The SRO [police in Toronto schools] program is over. What happens next? Phillip Dwight Morgan

  1. gjreid says:

    I don’t know much about this; however, having seen a few examples, recently, of militants in action, and having heard, recently, of some actions by the TDSB, I rather suspect that activist groups have captured the ‘discours’ and are carrying out policies under the guise of protecting minority groups which are actually designed to do nothing of the kind but instead to discredit institutions – such as the police – who are trying their best to reform and to build positive relationships with all groups. The aim of such activist or militant cabals is, often, to radicalize and polarize situations – ‘the worse it is, the better it is’ – and to then offer themselves, de facto, as the only real spokespersons for whatever group they wish to dominate and whose voices they wish to appropriate.. If real progress is going to be made we have to be willing to talk about these things –
    racism, scholastic difficulty, etc – frankly and openly without allowing ourselves – and by ourselves I mean the general public of every race and creed – to be blackmailed and bamboozled into silence by accusations of racism or whatever. The ‘victimization’ screed – and ‘we feel uncomfortable with’ argument can be used to justify anything, including vile behavior, as we have seen, recently, at Wilfrid Laurier University, and, in a lesser known case, at Massey College, University of Toronto.

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