TORONTO — A report by staff at Canada's largest school board recommends eliminating a controversial program that placed police officers in certain Toronto schools after finding the scheme left some students feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.
The report from staff at the Toronto District School Board follows a six-week period during which students, staff and parents at the affected schools were surveyed and student focus groups and community meetings were held to assess the School Resource Officer program.
The report, which is subject to approval by board trustees, said the program should be discontinued, but the board should continue to work with police to ensure a safe school environment.
"In the face of this data, we have a clear duty to act on behalf of our students, and address the concerns they have brought to our attention," it said.
The SRO program, which was suspended at the end of August, saw police officers deployed at 45 TDSB high schools in an effort to improve safety and perceptions of police.
It was implemented in 2008 after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute the previous year.
Critics of the program argued that armed officers in schools intimidate students. They also raised concerns about racial and anti-immigrant bias.
Rodney Diverlus of Black Lives Matter Toronto said the group is "cautiously optimistic" that school board trustees will accept the report, calling the SRO program a "reactionary measure" to a single incident.
"This report has really corroborated many of the claims that parents, that youth and students in our community have been saying since the introduction of the SROs," Diverlus said.
He said the group — which seeks to dismantle anti-black racism and support black healing — doesn't believe police belong in schools and make students feel intimidated.
Black Lives Matter believes social workers, child behaviour therapists, hall monitors and more time for faculty to engage with students would be more effective for students, Diverlus said.
The TDSB staff report said the review of the program found the majority of those surveyed had a generally positive impression. However, it noted, some felt intimidated by having an officer in the school or felt uncomfortable or that they were being watched at school.
"We have an obligation to ensure that all of our students can learn in schools that are safe, discrimination-free, and that protect their human rights," it said.
Although staff putting together the report heard from a significant number who supported the presence of an officer in their school, as well as many who were unaware of the program or felt unaffected by it, the board's priority must be "to mitigate against the differentiated and discriminatory impact of the SRO program," it said.
The report also noted that eliminating the program will not be without challenges.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Police Service said it continues to believe in the value of the program.
"Officers in schools, in uniform, create a safer learning environment and foster relationships between the police and young people," spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said Monday. "Partnerships like the ones we develop with schools are at the core of the service's modernization efforts to move toward a neighbourhood-centric model of policing."
While respecting the consultation process, the force believes the TDSB should reinstate the program, Gray said.
Fifty seven per cent of those surveyed for the TDSB report said having an officer in school made them feel safer.
"It's good in case there is a serious situation where someone could get dangerously injured. SROs don't really harass people in the school. They ask you what is the problem," one student said.
But 10 per cent surveyed strongly disagreed.
"When someone sees you talking to the police, they think you are a snitch. And that's it. Your life is over," one said.
The report said while it was recommending the discontinuation of the program in its current form, "staff will continue to work with police on order to build a partnership (with police) that honours the voices of all students."
Toronto's police services board is also reviewing program, with the assessment being carried out by Ryerson University.