School Board Endorses Police Presence Task Force Creation

A discussion held over from last week’s special meeting of the Upper Grand District School Board was no less easier to resolve seven days later. At Tuesday evening’s virtual meeting of the Board, the creation of a new task force to look at police presence in schools was debated, and so was the first attempt by the Board to due outreach on the subject with a proposed town hall that’s now going to take place in September.

First though there was the motion to create a Police Presence in Schools Task Force, which was deferred to this meeting from the special meeting last week. The original motion from Board Chair Martha MacNeil asked for a task force made up of seven community members, three staff members and three trustees to review the effectiveness of having police in area schools after receiving a number of complaints about students of colour being unfairly singled out by resource officers. The motion also asked the new task force to bring back recommendations by December 2020.

Ward 2, 3, and 4 Trustee Linda Busuttil was the first to propose amending item #3, which outlined the make-up of the task force, saying that it was important for the Board not to be too prescriptive in the who and how many community members to include on the task force. Busuttil’s amendment removed the call for community members and asked for a team of trustees and staff members to come up with the terms of reference. Vice-Chair Barbara Lustgarten Evoy suggested against forming a task force too big so that it can still be productive.

Gail Campbell, the Trustee for Orangeville, proposed an additional amendment to make a representative of one of the local police services a member of the task force. Campbell believed that having a police officer onboard would lend valuable expertise and experience, while other Board members felt that it would make it hard for the other committee members to get honest feedback about having police in schools with a member of the police taking part.

After about an hour of debate, the Board approved a task force of six voting members with one of the trustee representatives being a student, plus a member of one of the local police services in an advisory, non-voting capacity. After some technical issues, Wars 2,3 and 4 Trustee Mike Foley, and Minto, Mapleton, and Wellington North Trustee Robin Ross were voted as the trustee representatives on the task force.

In other matters, there was a lengthy debate about a virtual town hall to get the ball rolling with public feedback for the task force. Foley put forward a motion to hold a town hall on the subject of police in schools by July 31. “Community leaders and individuals from my wards have reached out to me as their representative about policing in Upper Grand DSB schools expressing concerns in light of the current social unrest, and a need for a reset of some policies,” Foley said in the report.

“Consequently, I am of the opinion that we should provide the appropriate forum for open discussion between all parties, and that the information received should be shared with the Policing in Schools Task Force, in order to assist them in making the process as informed and transparent as possible,” Foley added.

Wards 1 and 5 Trustee Mark Bailey endorsed Foley’s call for a town hall meeting saying that it represented a chance for the Board to represent their commitment to change. “We need to humble ourselves, and we need to listen,” Foley said.

Busuttil said that she did not want to just open the floor at a town hall where the communities that the Board wants to reach might not feel comfortable taking part. She argued that the motion should be deferred to the task force, and it should be left to them to decide how and where to hold a town hall meeting, but the vote to defer failed.

Ross, who represents three more rural areas in Wellington County, said that holding a virtual meeting would mean the people she represents would have difficulty participating given the slower internet speeds. Foley assured that that there could be a number of options for participation like allowing people to phone in to the town hall in addition to streaming it on the internet. The priority, he said, was to give an official outlet to the hundreds of people who have been sending emails and phone messages that the Board is listening, and that they’re starting to take action.

Lynn Topping, who’s the Trustee for numerous rural areas in Wellington County including Mono, Shelburne, and Grand Valley, said that she didn’t want the town hall to be a rake out for people with issues with policing. “You’re only going to hear from negative people, and the ones that don’t have a concern are not going to call in to a town hall,” she said. Campbell agreed saying that policing is not an issue in Orangeville.

Ward 6 and Puslinch Trustee Jolly Bedi, who is the one identifiable Person of Colour on the Board, pushed back on Board comments on delaying the meeting, and concerns about setting the terms for the task force before they meet. “This is one of the platforms we’re hoping to build,” she said. “People are ready to speak now, they are willing to talk, and they are talking to us individually.”

Eventually, Bailey offered an amendment to hold the town hall at the earliest possible opportunity instead of setting a hard deadline for July. Busuttil wanted a further amendment to direct the task force to organize the town hall, while the town hall itself would feature some combination of in-person and remote participation. Martha Rogers, the director of education for the Upper Grand Board, said that the earliest a town hall could be organized would be September since so much staff time will be taken up with budget work and re-opening plans through much of the summer.

The Board voted unanimously to direct the task force to arrange a town hall with staff by the end of September.

School board meetings are now adjourned until the fall.

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