UARR’s deputation to TDSB on the School Resource Officer program

On Wednesday, November 15, 2017, UARR Board Members Malika Mendez and Ainsworth Spence made the following presentation to the Toronto District School Board regarding the School Resource Officer program.

To the Chair and Trustees of the TDSB:

UARR supports the dissolution of the SRO program. Let us explain why.

One, by quoting from respected sources; two, by examining the genesis of the SRO program; and three, by elaborating on some of the impacts. 

Two quotes from the 2008 Review of the Roots of Violence Report presented by Justice Roy McMurtry and Dr. Alvin Curling are extremely telling. They state that they “were taken aback by the extent to which racism is alive and well and wreaking its deeply harmful effects on Ontarians,” and that they believed “that well-trained and properly paid youth workers can play critical roles in bridging youth, schools and communities.”

In their well-researched and thoughtful analysis, they did not advocate for police officers in schools because they identified “a wide consensus in the community that the safe schools provisions have had a disproportionate impact on racialized students.”

On our next point re: the SRO program. This program began in the US in the early ’50’s at a time when racism was rife and the KKK flourished. It was enforced in many schools located in districts that were classified as poor and where a large percentage of children came from Black households. It was developed in response to the perception that these communities had a greater number of  “delinquent” children.

In this program the word “resource” stands out. A resource is a source of support or supply.  A police officer’s first duty is to enforce the law. A police officer is not a source of support like a social worker or a guidance counsellor, and should not be expected to provide these services. It is not the role of an SRO to deal with the myriad of issues that racialized and marginalized youth face. That is the work of  trained and skilled professionals. The SRO program is a stop-gap substitute. What these youth need are more social workers and more guidance counsellors. Not criminalization.

In regards to some impacts on youth, put yourself in the place of a young child whose family has emigrated from a conflict zone or a war-torn country. Imagine the fear and confusion this child experiences when they are confronted by a uniformed SRO. For many children this conjures the images of violence and fear they encountered in their home country. Add to this the element of opposing cultures, language barriers, religious beliefs, appearance, etc., and we have a situation ripe for misinterpretation. The result is criminalization of  black and racialized youth.

Poor, marginalized, or racialized youth are more likely to be labeled disruptive and their behaviour criminalized , while their peers are more often diagnosed with physiological or mental health issues which are treated. A child with a few suspensions often ends up as being “known” to police. This further stigmatizes him or her. Societal perceptions about Black and racialized groups categorize, stigmatize, and ostracize them.

In conclusion, UARR strongly urges TDSB Trustees to dissolve this program. We urge Trustees to direct resources to providing more social workers, guidance counsellors, and anti-racism training for its staff so that students from Black and racialized communities can realize and share their full potential.

Thank You

Malika Mendez and Ainsworth Spence

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