The movement against School Resource Officers draws support

By: Katlyn Streilein

The police reform and abolishment movement in Canada continues to charge conversations around law enforcement’s place in the education system.

A panel of advocates from across Canada met virtually earlier this month to speak out against mandated police in schools in an event hosted by Police-Free Schools Winnipeg.

The meeting drew 148 attendees.

“I don’t believe that police officers belong in schools. I don’t believe guns belong in schools,” Irene Bindi said.

Bindi is the parent of a grade three student in the Louis Riel School Division and member of Police-Free Schools Winnipeg.

Irene Bindi, 42, is the parent of a grade 3 student in the Louis Riel School Division and a member of Police-Free Schools Winnipeg. Bindi is urging her school trustees to discontinue the School Resource Officer Program. /KATLYNSTREILEIN

The 42-year-old book editor is lobbying the board of trustees to discontinue the School Resource Officer Program (SRO).

The first step of the Winnipeg School Division’s review of its SRO program was a letter sent home to guardians about an upcoming survey.

The division’s letter claims the officers, “Support students in resolving problems with peers or others in the community,” and, “Encourage students to stay engaged in school and keep safe.”

The assertions are “general” and “thin” and ultimately function to normalize police presence, Bindi said.

Police-Free Schools Winnipeg and similar groups across Canada argue EAs, counselors, and nurses are better equipped to do the work of SROs.

“Police officers are not trained to deal with kids in crisis,” Bindi said.

A spokesperson for the WPS said SROs receive training specifically geared toward children and youth via the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

Bindi said these surveys don’t accurately represent the community and that equity-based discussions are the best way to amplify the voices of marginalized people.

Parents and guardians of Winnipeg School Division students received this letter between Dec. 2020 to mid-Jan. 2021, to notify them of an upcoming survey that seeks to gauge student and parent/guardian feedback on the School Resource Officer Program. /SUPPLIED BY IRENE BINDI.

During the info session, panellists spoke to the history between BIPOC and authorities, alleging systemic racism and disproportionate violence.

“The harms are difficult to trace,” Bindi said. “That’s the kind of thing that’s really difficult to communicate to trustees, who are, frankly, mostly white and have only ever had positive experiences with police.”

Police-Free Schools Winnipeg’s website features 33 anonymous testimonials from students, parents, and school staff outlining negative interactions with SROs.

SRO programs have been walked back in other Canadian cities including Hamilton, where the Hamilton Students for Justice group led a movement against police in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board of Ontario.

Critics dubbed the program the “school to prison pipeline.”

Panellist Robyn Maynard—author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present—said SRO programs treat young people with an incarceral approach.

“There is no reasonable answer to which any of the issues students face, whether that’s lack of access to appropriate housing, or food, or bullying, in which armed police—or unarmed police officers—are an appropriate response,” Maynard said.

City Council voted in favour of renewing the SRO program in Sept. 2020.

Coun. Rollins, Coun. Gilroy, and Coun. Santos voted against the proposal.

These councillor’s wards fall, in part, within the Winnipeg School Division—the largest school division in the city, which was assigned more than half of the contract’s 19 SROs.

The school divisions have budgeted nearly $3.4 million, the province put forth $1.6 million, and the WPS is posting close to $3 million for the program which runs until June 30, 2023.

“The resistance to these programs isn’t going to go away; It’s going to grow. Now is a really crucial time for trustees to start to pay attention.”

School division budget deadlines are approaching, and Bindi hopes trustees will vote against continuing with the program.