Director of Education
York Catholic District School Board
Catholic Education Centre
320 Bloomington Road West
Aurora ON L4G 0M1
Dear Domenic Scuglia:
Re: Review of School Resource Officer (SRO)/Values Influences and Peers (VIP) Programs
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) welcomes the York Catholic District School Board’s (YCDSB) review of the SRO/VIP programs. The review provides the Board with the opportunity to re-assess the engagement between officers and students. As a duty holder, the YCDSB must ensure that the Code-protected interests of all students are acknowledged and that values espoused by the Ontario Human Rights Code shape the context of any student officer engagement.
To this end, the review must be informed by the lived experiences of students, parents and educators who are members of Code-protected groups that have historically experienced systemic barriers in the education system and their dealings with the police. At this time, the terms for this review are not public. However, in the OHRC’s view, all options to re-imagine the scope of engagement including, terminating the program, should be considered in light of existing research and meaningful community consultation.
A recent report submitted to the YCDSB’s Board of Trustees by the Director of Education states that the SRO/VIP program has existed since the early 1990s. Since then, equity initiatives have shifted in an effort to keep pace with the changing demographics in our communities and ongoing efforts to dismantle systemic racism. For example, the Ministry of Education released the Equity Action Plan in 2017. It included a three-year plan that called for parents, educators, principals, Board staff, trustees and the community to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices, systemic barriers and bias from schools and classrooms. In 2021, the Ministry released the Board Improvement and Equity Planning Tool, which identified protecting human rights and removing systemic barriers as priorities. It is critical for the YCDSB’s SRO/VIP programs to be reviewed with these objectives in mind.
From our ongoing work in policing, we know that systemic discrimination is a concern for Indigenous, Black and other racialized groups. This work includes our Human Rights Project with Peel Regional Police, our inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service, and the research and consultation we conducted for Under Suspicion, the OHRC’s report on racial profiling. As part of our research, we engaged directly with racialized students, who raised concerns about their interactions with officers in school settings. For example, students told the OHRC they were inappropriately stopped, questioned and subjected to over-scrutiny by police in schools.
Similarly, research and findings from school boards across the Greater Toronto Area, and other regions in Ontario have identified concerns about SRO programs. For example, the Ottawa Carlton District School Board conducted a review of their SRO program and all legally discretionary activities of officers. Survey research conducted in that review found that 62% of Black respondents and 68% of LGBT2SQ+ respondents disagreed with the idea that police presence makes school a safer place. Similar concerns were identified in Peel region. In turn, the Peel Regional Police (PRP) conducted a review of their SRO program, and after considering all options, decided to end the program. In a media release, the Peel District School Board referred to the decision as a necessary change to disrupt systemic racism in our school communities. Peel Regional Police explained that while there was support for the SRO program, there were ongoing concerns about systemic racism and the disparate “punitive effects” created by this type of programming.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) also conducted a review of their SRO program to help make sure that the achievement and well-being of every student was supported by a culture of equity and inclusion. As part of the review, the TDSB conducted a voluntary, anonymous and confidential student survey, which produced mixed results. For example, 53% of the students surveyed were not sure if their SRO was helpful. When asked if the SRO program should continue in their school, 47% said yes, 7% said no and 46% were unsure. Community meetings conducted by the TDSB revealed that students expressed feeling intimidated by the presence of uniformed officers in schools, and Black students in particular expressed fear related to the presence of armed officers in schools. Even though there was support for continuing the program, the TDSB decided to end it in 2017, in response to the concerns raised primarily by Code-protected groups. This conclusion was reasonable, as the duty to protect the interests all students requires a careful balancing of rights and a commitment to ending programs that have a negative impact on student well-being.
Since then, other school boards have paused their SRO programs to conduct a review. For example, the York Region District School Board paused their SRO and Youth Education Officer (YEO) programs in March 2021. A review will be conducted to evaluate the program’s alignment with the Board’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy and to assess the impact of the programs on the well-being and learning environment provided to all students. Although officers were not stationed in YRDSB schools, the Black students raised concerns about their safety when officers did attend their school.
The YCDSB’s decision to review the SRO program should carefully consider the research conducted to date, consultation with local voices, and all options including ending the program. Robust terms of reference, driven by human rights principles and equity-seeking strategies, must be employed to make sure all students can benefit from a welcoming school environment.
cc: Elizabeth Crowe, Chair of the Board, York Catholic District School Board
Patrick J. Daly, President, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association