Advocacy groups are sounding alarm bells about a motion that would have seen the return of retired police officers to schools in the York Catholic District School Board.
A motion on Tuesday’s board meeting agenda called for retired officers to deliver a similar curriculum the recently-halted Values, Influences and Peers program, in which police visited schools to talk to students about themes like bullying and making good choices.
Many school boards in the Greater Toronto Area have scrapped the program along with School Resource Officers— police officers who maintain a presence in schools— in response to concerns expressed by over-policed groups. The YCDSB officially paused the VIP program several months ago.
The motion had Kearie Daniel, a parent of two YCDSB students, concerned.
“The bottom line is that when there are police in schools, whether they are retired or not, our children are not safe,” she told CBC News.
Daniel, who is also co-founder and executive director of the advocacy organization Parents of Black Children, said “they do not practice from a trauma-informed lens.”
Daniel says having a police officer in schools can amount to carding “under the guise of relationship-building”.
She says she would remove her son— who is in Grade 6— from the YCDSB system for his safety and well-being if an officer was present at his high school.
Reference to police officers removed
A spokesperson for the YCDSB told CBC News they could not make someone available to comment on Monday.
But on Monday afternoon, Trustee Dino Giuliani told CBC News he was amending his motion to eliminate a reference to having retired officers deliver the program, but keeping the motion otherwise largely intact.
He said he removed references to having a retired police officer deliver the curriculum after receiving “some pushback,” and that he only received comments from stakeholders that afternoon.
“And when I read them, I agreed. And so therefore, I made the right changes. And I believe I addressed all their concerns,” he said.
He said his motion now leaves the task of filling the gap left by the paused VIP program to “whoever is most qualified.”
“In other words, leave it open.”
‘Completely lost trust’: advocate
Shernett Martin, the executive director of the Black advocacy organization, ANCHOR, said this tweak isn’t good enough and still leaves the door open to what the Black community has been fighting against this whole time.
“If they have not explicitly stated that [they will not be hiring a police officer], then as far as I’m concerned, they’re going to find a way to bring police back into their schools,” she said.
“We’re annoyed by the game they are playing,” she said. She said she wants full transparency with the words “will no longer be using police officers in schools” written down, because she remains concerned the door is left wide open as is for the board to do anything.
The revised motion has also left in language expressing concern about the cost of bringing in other kinds of experts besides police, something Martin found “disheartening”.
“There’s no number that would satisfy us in terms of cost savings,” she said. “There should not be a monetary number associated with basically saving our children and making our children feel like they are worthwhile in the school system.”
Andrea Vásquez Jiménez, director and primary consultant with Policing-Free Schools, says she is aware that the school board is engaging in a review of both the School Resource Officers and VIP programs, but she is concerned the voices of those most impacted— Black families— may not be given enough weight.
She says the fact that a motion ever existed has eroded trust from the Black community and is evidence they aren’t being heard.
“As community, we have completely lost trust in not only this trustee, but the whole system that upholds this type of decision making and disregarding human rights and equity,” she said.