Ottawa Carleton District School Board Barrhaven Trustee Donna Blackburn will be introducing a motion to the Committee of the Whole Tues., June 13 that she hopes will start to rebuild a severed relationship with the Ottawa Police Service.
Blackburn tried to introduce a similar motion last summer. Trustee Christine Boothby moved to defer Blackburn’s motion indefinitely, saying the motion would cause hurt to the community. Trustee Lyra Evans, who is now the board chair and who has been an active anti-police advocate and provincial NDP candidate over the years, commented at the meeting that she was “of the opinion we punt this into space and never look back.”
Evans and other trustees lobbied for the cancellation of the Ottawa Police Service Student Resource Officer (SRO) program. Their reasoning was that having a uniformed police officer with access to the schools caused fear and anxiety to racialized (non-white) students and members of the LGTBQ+ community.
“I was surprised that last year’s motion did not even go to a vote before it was shut down,” Blackburn said.
This year, the playing field has changed on the board. Although there is still a core of trustees from the extreme left that wield a lot of power – Evans is now the Board Chair – there are several new members on the board. The recent media and public attention following the board’s refusal to allow a uniformed police officer to go to her daughter’s first grade class for a career day for parents with jobs that help the community triggered national attention. Evans did not back down from not allowing police officers in schools.
Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and Premier Doug Ford publicly asked the OCDSB to back down on their policy. Eventually, Education Minister Steven Lecce ordered the board to allow the police officer to take part in the career day, wearing a uniform.
“In my opinion, that was extremely embarrassing for the board. We lost a lot of public confidence,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn has updated the motion that will be presented to the Committee of the Whole June 13.
“WHEREAS the health and safety of our students and staff is a top priority without which student achievement and well-being cannot be realized; and
“WHEREAS school safety can be enhanced by a partnership with the police service which supports the safety and security of school communities and proactively assists students who may benefit from positive police involvement;
“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: THAT the Director of Education engage in discussions with the Ottawa Police Service to establish standards of practice that allow for police support to schools respecting the safety and security of students and staff.”
“This has nothing to do with politics,” Blackburn said. “This has everything to do with the safety of the students, and with creating a safe learning environment.”
Blackburn said there was a lot of public misunderstanding about the SRO program and how it operated.
“First of all, I want to be very clear that this is not a motion to re-instate the SRO program,” she said. “However, in my opinion, it is important that we have a relationship at some level with the police. When the officers were in the schools for the program, they developed relationships. They were able to work with the principals and administration. They were also able to develop relationships with the students, particularly the students who were at risk. Sure, not every police officer was perfect, but if you take a cross-section of any group in society and you are going to find people who are not perfect.”
While officers familiar with the schools, the students and their school culture were a mere text away with the SRO program, staff now has no other option but to call 9-1-1 when there is an issue at their school. One retired police officer who only agreed to speak to the Independent if he could be unnamed, said that the problems at the schools increased after the cancellation of the program.
“Violence at the schools was up the first year after the cancellation of the program,” he said. “There was an increase in bullying and fights, there were more drug deals taking place out in the open. The students who are problematic have become more brazen. It’s not just at the high schools. It’s at the elementary schools as well. There was a highly publicized incident at Longfields Davidson Heights Secondary School where a student was stabbed. What people don’t realize is that there were several situations like that around the city. Those incidents never made it to the media, so nobody knows about them.”
The officer also referenced Vimy Ridge Public School in Findlay Creek, which has had to have public meetings and forums about the bullying problem at the school and how children are being beaten up in unsupervised areas between portable classrooms during recess and lunch hour breaks.
Blackburn said that what she wants out of her motion is for a dialogue to begin between the Board and its Director of Education, and the Ottawa Police Service.
“Whether we have the SRO program or not, the police are still coming to the schools,” she said. “But the difference is, when there is a problem, do you want someone who is known at the school and has a relationship with the students responding, or do you want to call 9-1-1 and have to wait, and then whatever officer happens to be in the area on a beat shows up at the school and may never have been in the building in their lives?”
The board’s meeting will be streamed live at ocdsb.ca and then posted to the OCDSB YouTube channel.