The Upper Grand District School Board voted to discontinue its School Resource Officer (SRO) program at the board’s monthly meeting on Tuesday night. After nearly a year of work, the board enacted all the recommendations of the Police Presence in Schools Task Force, which effectively ends a program to have police officers regularly in schools, but maintains a relationship between schools and police.
By a unanimous vote of 9-0, the board endorsed seven recommendations from the task force report. While the SRO program is done, presentations by police will still be allowed to continue, but schools will have to give advanced notice and those presentations will have to be vetted through the Presentations in Schools Guidelines. Upper Grand schools will also collect feedback from students after each presentation, just as they will start collecting data on all police incidents on school property.
Police will still be on the premises of schools to deliver all foot safety patrol and and bus patrol training, and schools will continue to interface with police through the Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) Community Protocol. That protocol is used to determine the best way to help a student that’s in danger of acting violently towards themselves or others, and while the report did note that having an SRO had benefits to enacting the VTRA, there were some reported issues with the level of involvement and the (lack of) enthusiasm by some police members in VTRA situations.
“Arguments in favour of police presence in schools often cite threats to student safety as a motivation for SROs,” the report said. “However, the data referenced above, in addition to the VTRA data provided by UGDSB staff show that incidents that would negatively impact the safety of the school community are actually very low. Over a five-year period there were only three expulsions.”
Community feedback conducted by the task for was mixed. The data from a town hall and an online survey showed that 70 per cent of all respondents wanted to keep the police in schools, but among marginalized groups it was more evenly split; 46 per cent of people were against police presence in schools. BIPOC students were twice as likely to want police removed from schools, while LGBTQ+ students were two-and-a-half times more likely.
Two delegates spoke in favour of the recommendations at the meeting saying that other school boards that have pulled their SROs have seen less punitive punishments and more community involvement. Moon, who works at a daycare based in Guelph school, said that she talked to students who found SROs intimidating because they wouldn’t introduce themselves to students, and teachers wouldn’t explain to students why an SRO is at the school.
The recommendations from the Police Presence in Schools Task Force was presented at last month’s board meeting, but Guelph Trustee Linda Busuttil made a motion to defer the recommendations a month to gather more community feedback. Marva Wisdom, who led the task force, reported that their work focused on Black, Indigenous, and other students of colour, in other words, the people who are most impacted by inequity and systemic racism.
Before the vote, board chair Martha MacNeil said that the report and the recommendations represented a “a long road for everybody involved,” while the rest of the board agreed that the recommendations were a positive step forward.
Guelph Trustee Mark Bailey was absent from the meeting.
UPDATE: The Guelph Police Service released a statement about the board vote on Wednesday morning:
On Tuesday evening, trustees with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) voted to discontinue the School Resource Officer program. The Guelph Police Service respects the board’s decision.
We are committed to ensuring the safety of our schools and to having positive, proactive engagements with youth and our community. We will be meeting with the UGDSB to determine how we can continue to deliver safety training along with other presentations in accordance with the board’s requests and requirements.
We look forward to working collaboratively with the UGDSB and our community to develop programs and initiatives which will allow us to best serve our diverse community.
You can follow the full recap of the board meeting in the Twitter thread below: