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  • Tracy Sherlock

VSB votes to review role of police in schools, but not suspend program

The Vancouver School Board decided Monday night to review the role of police liaison officers in schools, but it stopped short of suspending the program.

Police school liaison officers deliver safety and crime prevention lessons within schools. The Vancouver Police Department program started in 1972 and includes informal connections, programs for marginalized students and other activities.

VSB trustees have heard that some students do not feel safe in schools because of the presence of police officers, VSB chairwoman Janet Fraser said.

Recent weeks have exposed racism within police forces, both in Canada and in the United States, where anti-racism demonstrations have been a flashpoint for the past several weeks, with calls to defund the police now becoming mainstream.

Board chairwoman Janet Fraser said whether or not to suspend the School Liaison Officer program is one of the most difficult questions she’s faced as a trustee.

“I am a white woman with a lot of privilege and I’ve not experienced racism myself,” Fraser said. “…But I also have the privilege of not having my children or people in my family close to me being recruited into prostitution or being targeted by gangs or being victims of violence. Those are some of the voices that we’re hearing from.”

The vote was 6-3 against suspending the program during the review. Trustees Barb Parrot, Jennifer Reddy and Lois Chan-Pedley voted to suspend it, while Allan Wong, Fraser Ballantyne, Carmen Cho, Estrelita Gonzalez, Oliver Hanson and Janet Fraser were opposed.

Reddy supported the suspension and explained her reasons on Twitter.

“As a trustee it is my job to address inequities and injustice including the fact that schooling in Vancouver was designed for assimilation and as a way to reduce juvenile delinquency and adult criminality specifically for racialized children there is more at play,” she said.

Reddy also said VPD data shows that First Nations people were stopped by police 15 per cent of the time, but they represent just two per cent of the population, and Black people were stopped five per cent of the time, but they make up just one per cent of the population.

“At every turn, decision-making is an exercise of power and privilege,” Reddy said.

Long-time trustee and former school administrator Fraser Ballantyne said it would be “dangerous and irresponsible” to end the program, because it helps keep students safe, particularly young female students who are at risk of being recruited into prostitution. At another point in the meeting, Ballantyne said “When you look at it, the Caucasian kids are actually the visible minority … I think it’s really important to hear what they have to say about it.”

Some trustees were concerned the funding for the program might be lost forever if it was suspended, while others said that although they had heard from many people opposed to having the officers in schools, they wanted to hear directly from Vancouver students.

Trustees were unanimous in their support of the separate proposal to review the role of the School Liaison Officers. They also unanimously supported several other anti-racism proposals, including one to ask the Ministry of Education to develop learning materials about Canadian Black History and another to create a racist incident database.

The review will be complete by October.

The last meeting of the school year also saw trustees pass a nearly $650-million annual budget, which required $9.1 million from previous years’ surpluses to balance.

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