WATERLOO REGION — A group of students is calling on the public school board to include their voices as they review the police in schools program.
In an Instagram post, Students 4 Inclusive Schools said students’ voices should be “predominant” as trustees and Waterloo Region District School Board officials look into the program during its 20-year history.
“Students across the region do not feel safe with the presence of armed police officers in their schools,” the Instagram post said. It was released Monday afternoon.
The students, from schools such as Forest Heights, Cameron Heights and Eastwood, say their voices have never been listened to and now they are demanding school board officials pay attention.
Hafsa Said, a graduate of Cameron and one of six student leaders of the group, said schools are considered safe spaces and students shouldn’t be made to feel afraid by seeing police in schools, particularly elementary schools.
Said, who hasn’t had any personal interaction with police in schools, said officers in schools are often dealing with marginalized youth and students feel criminalized.
“It’s very clear that it makes Black students feel uncomfortable,” said Said, who will be studying social development studies at the University of Waterloo in the fall.
School board trustee Scott Piatkowski plans to put forward a motion at a school board meeting Monday night asking staff to form a committee that will take a closer look at the School Resource Officer program.
Piatkowski said members of the Black community have asked for the review. He said the students’ voices and their alternatives to police in schools will be part of the review.
The African, Caribbean, and Black Network of Waterloo Region said they don’t want officers in schools dealing with racialized youth. They say students have said they are not safe and that the program targets marginalized youth. Instead, nurses and social workers should be in schools, said the group.
Network member Fitsum Areguy said the calls for actions are entirely student led.
“They are rising up and doing something inspirational,” he said.
In the social media post, the student group said the review must capture the voices of students, particularly those at-risk, and Black and African students.
The group is also calling for data collected by Waterloo Regional Police, which runs the programs in the schools, be given to the board for a fulsome review.
The students say anti-racism and anti-oppression training must be held for all school board administrators, teachers, support staff and counsellors.
The group said disciplinary action should be replaced with a community-led alternative based in restorative justice with a focus on culturally-responsive support workers, crisis counsellors and mental health workers.
Get the latest in your inbox
Never miss the latest news from The Record, including up-to-date coronavirus coverage, with our email newsletters.
The students say the police in school program impacts marginalized youth the most. They are calling for the upcoming review to consult with the African, Caribbean, and Black Network of Waterloo Region.
The School Resource Officer program has existed for about two decades. Currently there are 10 officers in the program who are assigned to 240 secondary and elementary schools in the region. Officers are available to the public and Catholic school boards as well as private and independent schools, according to Waterloo Regional Police’s 2019 annual report.