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  • Tracy Sherlock

Advocates ask VSB to immediately end the practice of having police officers in schools

Advocates are asking the Vancouver School Board to end the School Liaison Officer Program. Photo: Wikimedia.

Several advocates for Black, Indigenous and people of colour are urged the Vancouver School Board on Wednesday evening to end the School Liaison Officer Program in Vancouver schools now, rather than putting it off for further review.

“We demand the immediate removal of school liaison officers for the protection of Black and Indigenous students from intimidation, surveillance and criminalization,” said speaker Emily Johnson, a representative of Black Lives Matter Vancouver.

“After tonight, I expect the trustees of Vancouver School Board and those present at this meeting, to acknowledge that the presence of police in our schools serves to profile, criminalize and intimidate Black, Indigenous and racialized students and as a result drives these students away from school. I expect trustees to recognize that this in turn further marginalizes students and it restricts their access to resources and education without fear.”

The VSB agreed in June to review the role of police officers in schools, but stopped short of suspending the program. Now, nearly four months later, trustees have voted to postpone awarding the work because they want to make sure they get enough community engagement and consultation, trustee Lois Chan-Pedley said at a VSB meeting. That could delay the review findings by three to nine months.

VSB chairwoman Janet Fraser said trustees voted unanimously to review the program, but now they want to be sure to do the work properly.

“We are hearing concerns. We want to hear from students, from families, from staff and the community, so we can address those concerns,” Fraser said. “We want to be thoughtful. There’s also a lot of conversation about people feeling safe and secure while providing their feedback and making sure there is the right amount of time to allow for that process.”

The role of police in schools is an issue being grappled with across North America. Toronto ended their practice in 2017, Edmonton placed theirs on hold last month, Winnipeg is debating what to do and several American cities are discussing it or have changed their practice.

Seven delegations spoke to the board, urging them not to delay the review. Speaker Ruby Smith Diaz said the lives of Black and Indigenous students cannot wait any longer.

“Here were are on October 14, waiting yet again, for the Vancouver School Board to take action on an issue that affects the health and well-being of Black and Indigenous youth. Every day that we wait is another day that we put Black and Indigenous children at risk,” Smith Diaz said.

More than 2,500 people have signed a petition asking the Vancouver School Board to end the role of Student Liaison Police Officers in schools.

“As parents, educators, and community members, we want schools to be places where all children and youth feel welcome, safe, and valued,” the petition reads. “We want to believe that this is already the case, but many Black, Indigenous, and racialized students and their families do not feel safe at schools where police are present.”

The VSB also presented a draft Interim Report Anti-Racism and Non-Discrimination Strategic Plan and is planning a Black, Indigenous and people of colour focus day for November 27.

“Anti-racism involves taking proactive steps to move from discrimination towards empowerment. It is different from other approaches that focus on multiculturalism or diversity because it acknowledges that systemic racism exists and actively confronts the unequal power dynamic between groups and the structures that sustain it,” the document says.

It will include changes to codes of conduct and references to “acts of hate” as well as a response plan for acts of racism. It will also include anti-racism training for all staff, the report says.

A draft policy for naming and renaming schools was also presented at the meeting, as well as the possibility of considering renaming Sir Matthew Begbie and David Lloyd George schools as a pilot program. Both of those schools are being replaced as part of the seismic mitigation program.

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