Lon­don’s two largest boards to stick with po­lice in high schools

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - DALE CAR­RUTHERS

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.

DALE CAR­RUTHERS

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.

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