Cops in school or no cops in school
The ‘No cops in school’ campaign in Ottawa has me concerned. While I understand the importance of eradicating systemic racism and violence perpetrated by some police officers, I am apprehensive that eliminating police from the schools will put all our children in danger. Our city council has guards, our politicians on Parliament Hill have guards, entertainers have bodyguards, and dignitaries visiting our city are protected by guards as well.
Not long ago a high school in our neighbourhood was locked down because of a student wielding a knife. A teacher in my network tells me that drugs are sold in the local high schools and usually everyone knows who is selling. Mass shootings in schools, churches and community buildings by individuals with mental health problems are not unusual in the United States and Canada.
I, for one, want the School Resource Officers to remain present in our schools, and the issues of police violence, misconduct and racism be dealt with head-on. How can I influence the school board on this issue?
Generally Silent Parent
Dear Generally Silent Parent,
There are always two sides to an argument and usually some merit for both. In relationship counselling we regularly see things work out best in disputes when both sides demonstrate respect, understanding and a positive attitude that there is a middle ground and a way to solve the problems. The ultimatums, the generalizations, the put downs, the bashing, the name calling and the anger is best removed from the discussions between the parties. The ‘either/or’ mentality needs to be shelved as well. Neutral mediators have done wonders to reduce conflict in disputes between individuals or groups and may be helpful here.
I have tried to summarize below, the conflict present about the School Resource Officer program and offer you a few ideas to have your voice heard.
According to Jacquie Miller in the Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 2020, in the ‘No cops in the school’ campaign in Ottawa, some racialized students are afraid of the police and feel intimidated when they see an officer in uniform. Some have had an experience which was unpleasant, possibly violent, and perceived as racially motivated. Jacquie reports that some groups have appeared before the Ottawa Carleton District School Board saying that the program upholds systemic racism and contributes to over policing of racialized communities. They also say the program is part of the ‘school- to- prison pipeline.’ Proponents of this position seek an end to the School Resource Officer Program and funds allotted to mental health workers and social workers among other interventions. The same issue is being looked at, by assorted school boards around the province.
In the same article, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, is quoted as saying that the School Resource Officer program is” the most important partnership that the Ottawa Police Service has in civil society”. An Ottawa police service statement in the Ottawa Citizen December 5, 2020 states that “School resource officers work on building healthy and trusting relationships with children of all ages and backgrounds, by becoming a familiar presence in their school experience.’
The police have multiple goals with this program, such as education of children around bike safety, bullying and the criminal justice system. They are there to influence attitudes in the children’s minds for adulthood. They are there to build trust, respect and a willingness to work with the police in keeping our society safe. They are there to keep the children danger-free by being readily available for any serious behavioural incident, which might involve such things as drugs, knives or guns.
The Resource Officers are the frontline protection for children in schools. They work hand-in-hand with parents, teachers and the school board in a solid partnership, united in safety concerns for children. At the same time their positive presence and involvement with the students can help desensitize students who may have had a bad experience with police and who may fear uniformed officers. They do this by spending time together and getting to know each other better in such activities as basketball games in the gymnasium.
Groups supporting the School Resource Officer program want it to continue and additional funds be provided for mental health workers, social workers, and police training around racism and violence. This group wants to focus on the issues and the individual incidents and students affected, in an effort to ameliorate the situation, all the while supporting and encouraging the police officers in this role with our children.
So, Generally Silent Parent, you want to have a say! Good on you! Our leaders in education are looking for input from parents, students and the community. There are many things you can do to express your viewpoint and I encourage you to do them. Listed below are a few ideas.
- Contact the PTA in your school. Find out what they are doing on this issue and get involved. Groups seem to have more power than individuals when taking a position on anything political. Perhaps you will find support for your position from other members of the PTA and be able to contribute to a strategy to present it.
- Arrange to attend a school board meeting and speak in person or virtually, stating your position on this topic and the reasons for it. You will only be allotted a few minutes but they can be very effective minutes with the right words.
- Write a concise well-crafted letter to the chairman of the school board outlining your position and the reasons for wanting to maintain the SRO program. Copy it to every board member, the school principal and your children’s teachers. Be sure to send it to the City Council members and the Ottawa Police Service as well. Encourage your neighbours, friends and other parents to do the same.
- Write letters to any media source including, newspapers and magazines.
- Write to assorted parenting groups in your community and encourage them to get involved.
- Try to get a local television station and/or radio station to interview you, your group and/or your PTA representative.
- If there is a student group at your children’s high school who wish to support the ‘cops in the school’ program encourage your teenagers to join it. If there isn’t one, help them figure out how to form one. This would be an invaluable experience for your high schoolers which goes beyond the issue at hand. Perhaps they can start a letter writing campaign, speak at a school board meeting, prepare a YouTube video with their ideas on it, post information on social media, be interviewed by a newspaper or media source, or even organize a school debate on the topic.
- Be aware Generally Silent Parent that there are many problems within our police service of which you may be unaware. A look at a recent OLM article will introduce you to a few. It might be helpful to call for an independent review of the School Officer Program in which a reliable, valid, evidenced-based study of this aspect of police service could be produced and the results used to influence programming and protection services in our schools. Best of course if the study is conducted by experts with no dog in the fight!
I wish you well, Generally Silent Parent. Your interest here is the kind of spark that lights up our democracy. I agree it is important to focus on the real issues of ending violence, misconduct and systemic racism, while continuing to support and recognize the accomplishments of so many dedicated, though sometimes less than perfect, police. Hopefully, with voices like yours being heard, there will be no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater!
Photo: NeONBRAND, Unsplash