On the agenda for Monday’s meeting of the Waterloo Region District School Board is the long-delayed motion to formally review the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
That program stems from a long-standing partnership with the Waterloo Region Police that sees ten constables specifically assigned to high schools and elementary schools in the Waterloo Region – with the goal of fostering a positive relationship between youth and police while proactively addressing student, family and school issues.
Scott Piatkowski is a school board trustee serving Waterloo and Wilmot and was the trustee to originally submit the notice of motion to the board in June. He said that, due to delays with budget approval, navigating the pandemic and sorting the safe return to school, the board had not yet had the opportunity to debate and vote on this motion. He said recent protest movements and feedback from Black, Indigenous and racialized community members have again reignited the discussion, while he’s been receiving informal feedback both in favour of and in opposition to the program. This review, however, is one that he describes as being a little overdue.
“What came to my attention is that the program is over twenty years old, and it has never had a formal review (…) it just makes sense to review any program – and this seems like a good time to be reviewing it… when the issues are being widely discussed…”
When discussions began in June, board staff recommended that the SRO program be suspended – as a result, no resource officers have been in place since. Piatkowski said the purpose of Monday night’s vote is not to end the program for the region - but rather to formally review statistics, look at the outcomes of the program, concerns raised and ultimately come up with recommendations on how to move forward for the board. Should the board vote for the review, a committee will be assembled with representation from the board of trustees, teachers, parents and students.
Among the specific concerns he’s heard, Piatkowski said some members in racialized communities expressed feelings of being targeted by resource officers in ways that non-racialized students are not – with some feeling surveilled and uncomfortable in school. Piatkowski also said he’s heard from many who feel the Resource Officer program has valuable outcomes that help youth steer clear of negative influences.
“The important thing to note is that the outcome of the review is not set in stone. People who have expressed concerns about the motion… I think are assuming one particular outcome.” said Piatkowski.
“That’s not necessarily the case – we’re going to hear from all sides, and then we’ll figure out whether we want an ongoing police presence in schools… and if so, what that will look like.”
Piatkowski said the earliest likely meeting would probably come in December, with the board agenda describing a timeline for committee’s recommendations to come by the end of December 2021.
Also coming to the board for discussion tomorrow will be a motion to review school names in the Waterloo Region District School Board, which could lead to a committee reviewing the names of all schools and board facilities using an anti-racist lens. That motion, served by trustee Kathleen Woodcock, will look to meaningfully engage indigenous, black and racialized communities in the district in conducting their review.