London’s two largest boards to stick with police in high schools
LONDON, ONT. The London area’s two largest school boards say they don’t plan to follow Toronto’s lead and scrap a program that puts uniformed police officers in high schools.
The Toronto District school board recently voted to end its school resource officer program that placed officers in 45 high schools, following weeks of community consultations.
Established in 2008, the program had come under fire from activists and community groups, including Black Lives Matter, who said the police presence in classrooms and hallways made some students feel uncomfortable and intimidated.
Now, some of those community groups that led the push in Toronto are calling on the Ministry of Education to eliminate the police-run program across the province.
But the ministry said it’s up to individual school boards to make that decision.
Officials at the Thames Valley and London District Catholic school boards say they are keeping the program and haven’t had any complaints about it.
“It really helps to build community relations,” said Kathy Furlong, superintendent of education for the London District Catholic board.
The Toronto board’s decision to nix the program came as a surprise, said Furlong, who praised the local initiative as a way to give students easy access to police and strengthen ties between the two groups.
“Sometimes, students will say they want to go to talk to the officer if they have some concerns,” she said.
“Also, they’re more likely to then contact police if there’s an issue outside the school because they have had a very positive experience with the officer.”
In London, four police officers are each assigned to cover five high schools. A similar program for elementary schools also has four officers visiting more than 100 schools.
Secondary school officers teach students about alcohol and drugs, work with teachers to address specific issues, act as mentors to students and provide information on policing careers, said Sgt. Brendan Hicks, who oversees the program.
“The whole purpose behind it is to build a bond with kids,” he said, calling the Toronto decision “unfortunate.”
Resource officers are sometimes required to enforce the law at their schools, Hicks said, but they do it in a “progressive way.”
“They have a very positive relationship in the school,” Hicks said of his officers.
That positive relationship was on display last week at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic secondary school, where resource officer Const. Tanya Leclerc popped into a Grade 11 religion class to field questions and chat with students.
The teens peppered Leclerc with queries ranging on topics from the Highway Traffic Act to Canada’s prostitution laws. She took time to carefully answer all their questions — no matter how outrageous.
“These are officers who genuinely care about the students who are at their schools and are trying to make their communities better,” Hicks said.
Const. Tanya Leclerc is a school resource officer at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic secondary school in London, Ont. The Toronto District School Board has decided to eliminate its resource officer program.