Upper Grand Board to Look at Police in Schools, Hung Up on Technicalities

At a special meeting of the Upper Grand District School Board on Tuesday night, trustees all agreed that while forming a task force to look at police presence in schools is a good idea, the motion tabled by the Board chair had some issues that couldn’t be resolved in one night. While the Board accepted the report, there’s still a lot of work to be done before they move onto the next phase.

The seven-point motion proposed by Chair Martha MacNeil included the creation of a new task force to study the presence of police officers in Upper Grand District schools. The make up of the task force was to include seven community members, three staff members and three trustees, who were to be named at the June 23 meeting.

“Over the past two weeks, both staff and trustees have received numerous emails and phone calls regarding police presence in schools,” the report said. “Specifically, the emails and call shave suggested that police have been targeting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) students and have demanded that the Upper Grand District School Board end its partnership with the Guelph Police Services.”

The task force would be directed to bring recommendations back by December of this year.

The proposed motion ran into issues right away when it was pointed out that the task force lacked a student representative. Student trustee Amelia Luff pointed out there should even be two student representatives because students from the BIPOC community should be represented on such a task force.

Ward 2,3,and 4 Trustee Linda Busuttil  started expressing concerns that there were some details missing like the selection process for the community representatives, who would oversee the selection, and the development of terms of reference for the task force, all of which was missing from the recommendation.

Busuttill’s ward mate Mike Foley called the report a “giant step in community relations,” but he added that there needs to be more allowances for community input beyond the task force like the holding of town halls to start the conversation. He also added that there needs to be an accountability process somewhere in the Board’s desire for more oversight.

Robin Ross, the Trustee for the Townships of Wellington North, Minto and Mapleton, noted that the report to the Board was very Guelph-centric, and wanted to make sure that the task force was going to represent all areas covered by the school board.

With many on the Board voicing concern about the recommendation, Vice-Chair Barbara Lustgarten Evoy suggested that they pass the first recommendation to receive the report, and then work on the remaining six. After some more debate, the Board decided that it was better to come back to the board with a cleaner motion that addressed the concerns of the members as opposed to passing something with amendments on the fly that could later force a motion of reconsideration down the road.

The remaining six recommendations were deferred until the regular Board meeting next Tuesday.

The school board also received the the three-year Equity Plan, which outlines how the board, its teachers and students will be combating systemic racism in Upper Grand District schools.

“We are not just here to talk about racism, power, bias or oppression, were here to talk about actions,” said Cheryl Van Ootegham, a superintendent for education at the school board. “We are here tonight because it is time, once and for all, to put an end to all forms of racism. As a system, and as individuals, we are listening, and we know we must do better for our children.”

Jessica Rowden, the Board’s Equity and Inclusion Lead, said that the educational programs schools will undertake will “move away from concepts like kindness, consideration and equality and understand what oppression is to become anti-oppressive.”

Colinda Clyne, who’s in charge of First Nations, Metis and Inuit curricula for the Upper Grand District School Board, said that the they will be very focused on getting feedback from the racialized community in order to get their input on future programs, which will be more focused on critical race theory and how to dismantle systemic racism. “We often look at racism based on an individual, but we need to look at how the system itself is racist,” she said. “Policies are never neutral, they’re either anti-racist or upholding white supremacy. There’s no middle ground.”

An anti-racism policy is being developed and it’s scheduled to be brought to the September Board meeting as a draft for approval.

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