The Caribbean community in Toronto is relieved that trustees at the Toronto District School Board, (TDSB) last Wednesday, pulled the plug on the decade-old School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
Members of the Caribbean community have been consistently calling for the removal of the program, which placed armed police officers in 45 schools across the city.
The move to end the program was greeted with cheers by the spectators at the full boardroom and was a result of feedback from students, parents and the Toronto community in a review. They had argued that the presence of armed police officers at schools, undermined some of the city’s most vulnerable youths.
The trustees voted 18-3 in favor of canceling the SRO program.
Trustee Marit Stiles, who supported the discontinuance of the SRO program, said, “I think it’s a really important moment. The community has been telling us for some time that this program has been problematic.”
The program was suspended in August for the review to take place. Its ending means that the officers that were stationed at the 45 schools in the city, will not return there next year.
Another trustee, Tiffany Ford said, “ten years ago our board made a mistake by not consulting the public and not listening to the voices in the community. Our schools are meant to reinforce the power of education and not the power of stigmatization.
The SRO program was started after Jordan Manners was shot dead at CW Jefferys, a school in Ford’s ward.
Last Wednesday’s decision, followed recommendations earlier this month by TDSB staff after the six-week review, which included the completed surveys of 15,500 students with police in their school.
Majority of the teens were satisfied with the SRO programme or had no opinion, however, the staff thought the thousands who felt uncomfortable, intimidated and targeted with the armed police officers in their schools, were too significant to dismiss.
Of those who were surveyed, 57% had a positive response to the SRO program, while 10% disagreed with it.
Groups like Black Lives Matter, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations as well as others, congratulated the staff’s report, which was unanimously endorsed by the TDSB’s planning and priorities committee the previous week, following a parade of delegates who appeared before them to support the move.
Many groups, including those from the Caribbean community, had argued that the presence of armed police in schools was detrimental to many black youths, undocumented teens, who felt threatened even though they have a legal right to education and other marginalized groups.
They believed that instead of the SRO program, the board should have placed more resources towards hiring youth counselors, social workers and launching anti-racism programs.
“Butterfly Gopal of Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty, said, “this is a big victory for us. This is testament to Jordan. Jordan’s name has been pulled to justify criminalizing our community, militarizing our community for more than 10 years.”