The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has voted to end the contested Student Resource Officer (SRO) Program within the country’s largest school district. This decision will remove SROs from schools within the TDSB and will allow for the allocation of other resources to be put in place instead.
The controversial program has been under question for years by many students, community members and organizations regarding its effectiveness, negative impact on students and the very resources it aimed to offer as well. Of the organizations that have been working and supporting the removal of the SRO Program for years includes Black Lives Matter Toronto, Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network (LAEN), and Education Not Incarceration. They argued that the presence of police officers in schools created an unsafe and uncomfortable environment for marginalized and racialized students within schools that the program was run in.
The program was put into place in 2008 after an instance of violence at a school within the TDSB. The program placed SROs in 45 TDSB high schools and the program was temporarily suspended in August 2017 in order to survey students and staff along with community consultations as well. One of the major trends and issues with the program was that the officers were mainly placed in schools within the TDSB which were in marginalized and racialized areas. Trustee Tiffany Ford noted that “Our schools are meant to reinforce the power of education and not the power of stigmatization…” which is why she supported this decision. By putting SROs in the most racialized areas, the program itself singled out those who were already the most marginalized and vulnerable within Canadian society, further stigmatizing them in their place of learning.
The six week review took place this fall where the TDSB looked into the program’s effectiveness and impact through feedback from thousands of students and stakeholders. The surveys were completed by 15,500 students who had the SRO Program within their schools. From the surveys and feedback, students had mentioned, along with community members, that the presence of SROs within schools made them uncomfortable and intimidated, and in some cases watched or targeted. In particular, 25% of students addressed these issues within the study that was conducted; this means that 3,922 students were negatively affected by the program.
The review found the presence of officers especially affected students of colour, undocumented students, Black students, other marginalized and vulnerable groups. The goal of removing the program was to make sure that school is an environment that all students feel safe in, is free of discrimination and where students’ human rights are being protected. Schools are meant to be an equitable and safe space for all students and with this amount of students negatively affected by SROs, the recent decision will create an environment that is more conducive to learning for all, particularly racialized and marginalized students.
The removal of the program also allows the TDSB to look into alternate ways to support schools such as guidance counsellors, more staff and the implementation of different programming. The decision is creating room for new resources and practices within schools and will hopefully lead the way for other school districts to follow suit to create safer, more accessible and equitable schools for all their students in the future.
Manaal Farooqi is a community organizer working on issues of discrimination, violence against women and more.