David Staples: Why won’t Edmonton public school trustees step up for the safety of our kids? | #schoolsaftey

Why won’t Edmonton public school trustees step up for the safety of our kids?

This is a perplexing question given the trustees now have credible evidence that a significant number of students have had crimes committed against them at school and want dedicated in-school police officers, known as School Resource Officers (SRO), brought back.

A comprehensive 183-page report deals with key aspects of the issue. It was done by expert criminologists and sociologists researchers that the school board hired to investigate the specific issue that halted the SR0 program, whether or not students in certain groups, including Indigenous students, feel targeted, picked on and oppressed by the school officers.

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This issue came up mainly because politicians across North America were gripped by an anguished plea to “defund the police” after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in May 2020. It played out at Edmonton Public with trustees putting on hold the SRO program.

But the board’s decision needs reversing.

Among the report’s many findings are survey results from more than 4,000 students who identify as Indigenous or a member of some other non-white group, and/or have a physical or learning disability, and/or belong to the 2SLGBTQ+.In total, 33 per cent in this large group said at least once in the past five years they had been threatened, 13 per cent physically attacked, 18 per cent in a physical fight, 33 per cent robbed, and 16 per cent sexually harassed or assaulted at school.

But the researchers also found that this same large group of students think well of school officers, with 62 per cent saying they do an average-to-very good job at keeping the school safe from criminals in the community, with just eight per cent saying they do a poor job.

Asked if they’ve had a positive or a negative experience with an SRO, 37 per cent of Black students said positive, 11 per cent negative. For Indigenous students it was 40 per cent positive, 18 per cent negative.

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The researchers also conducted focus groups with dozens of current and former students and parents, again with largely positive responses, including a result that surprised me, that the students felt better off dealing with the SRO than “more punitive” school staff.

Current students said since the SROs were axed, they have felt less safe. “Some state that there are certain hallways or washrooms in their schools that they do not feel safe accessing anymore due to … spaces fraught with criminal activity.”

The report is an astonishing and heartening document, so much so that based on your own reading you might well not just want to bring back the SRO program, but see the officers be given medals and pay raises.

If some young person wants to do good in the world, they evidently could do much worse than grow up to be an SRO. Page after page of the report is filled with reports of their civility and good deeds.

Of course, negative experiences were also reported. The trustees could still decide to get rid of the program once and for all, the authors said:  “A decision to permanently terminate the SRO program can be supported by a small, yet vocal group of students and parents who feel that the program intimidates youth and subjects them to hyper-surveillance, is biased against racialized and marginalized students, and is too expensive.”

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But, overall, the researchers supported the SRO program. “Regardless of racial background, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, most of the students and parents who participated in this study value the SRO program at EPSB, and are critical of the decision to suspend the program … Most of our student and caregiver respondents feel that the SRO program prevents crime and violence in school, protects students from criminals in the community, builds relationships between students and the police, provides students with additional adult mentors, and makes students feel safe at school.”

I’m going to suggest that in the heated aftermath of the Floyd homicide, a poor decision was made. Now that credible evidence showing the value of the SRO program has come out, should it not be brought back?

The trustees now say more research is needed, such as input from staff and administration. This strikes me as dilly-dallying and evading responsibility for their previous rash decision.

Just now, it’s reasonable to ask two things of our trustees.

First, to not let their quest for perfect information and a perfect program get in the way of the good the SRO program evidently can do.

Second, if in light of their decision to continue to delay, that they agree to take responsibility if disorder takes a turn for the worse in our schools or a major incident occurs where an SRO might well have made a huge difference.

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