Reintroducing school resource officers puts racialized students at risk: education advocate

The debate over police presence in schools continues ahead of Edmonton Public School Board meeting on Tuesday. Hiba Kamal-Choufi speaks to Edmontonians and student advocates on having police officers in schools.

By Hiba Kamal-Choufi

Having police officers in schools is harmful to many students, according to a public education advocacy group.

The Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) is meeting Tuesday to debate reintroducing the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, four years after it was suspended.

The group Support our Students Alberta believes it would put marginalized and racialized students at risk.

“This is becoming an extension of the prison system essentially,” said Wing Li, the group’s communications director.

Support our Students Alberta wrote a letter to the EPSB asking trustees to vote against bringing back SROs.

Li says she is shocked the board is having the debate during a tight education budget; Edmonton Public previously had to pay to have officers in schools when the program was in effect.

“It is fiscally irresponsible to put money towards police when you have so many other tried-and-true professional education-focused solutions,” she said.

The communications director also feels the timing of the meeting is unfair.

“The board had not offered enough time for the community to really step up,” Li said. “A Tuesday morning, short-notice meeting is not accessible for many people who don’t have the privilege of having to take the whole day off in the middle of the week.”

The SRO program began in 1979 to create a police presence inside some Edmonton schools. EPS says the goal of the program was to keep schools safe for students and staff by “balancing enforcement with prevention and intervention.”

Police say the presence of SROs in schools helps prevent “bullying, graffiti and vandalism, harassment or stalking, robbery or theft, or use of weapons or threats.”

EPS said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, that it already has 13 SROs working with the Edmonton Catholic School District in 16 of its schools.

The SRO program was suspended by EPSB in 2020 after community members raised concerns over a lack of data to support the need for police in school, and that some marginalized community members did not feel comfortable with the program.

“Following the EPSB’s cancellation of the SRO program in 2020, impacted officers were redeployed to other units including the EPS Youth Intervention and Diversion Unit,” said EPS in a statement.

“Over the course of the 2022-2023 school year, EPS School Resource Officers were involved in 369,600 positive interactions with students and community members. They conducted 1,788 hours of coaching and engagement activities outside of their normal hours of operation, and conducted 313 presentations to nearly 14,900 students, staff, and parents.”

A June 2023 report found a majority of Edmonton families support police in public schools.

Edmonton Public says it has spent the last year collecting more feedback from parents, students and educators. The school board hopes to come to a decision about the future of the program Tuesday.

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