After cancelling the school resource officer program in July, the Waterloo Region District School Board has since called on regional council to see the funding for the program reallocated to community-based services that help racialized communities. Sending correspondence to the Regional Chair Karen Redman and regional council earlier in October, that letter penned by the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Joanne Weston, called the change an "important opportunity", supporting students with programs "staffed by professionals that have expertise in helping youth."
Weighing in on that correspondence on Wednesday was Police Services Board Member, Ian McLean, who expressed his frustration not only with the cancellation of the nearly 30 year old program, but also the ask made in the letter. While the trustees have appealed to the region regarding that SRO funding, McLean maintained he's "pretty sure" it'd be the police services board making that call, as he said he's not certain the school board understands the role of the police services board.
"When they cancelled the program, then subsequently sent this correspondence recently - the correspondence itself was sent to the Regional Chair, not the Chair of the Police Services Board ... again, not understanding the process, not respecting the process nor this board with is really disappointing." said McLean. "My understanding is it was also posted on their social media feed before it ever made it into the regional chair's office - let alone the police services board. Really disappointing."
McLean also argued there was "limited if no consultation" between school board staff and those of regional police regarding potential modification of changes to the program - a move he said was "disappointing" given that the public board and police are "trying to have a partnership.
Noting the "unique responsibility" of regional police for adequate and effective policing in the community, McLean said the manner in which the issue was raised by the school board was a "disservice to the complexity and importance of the issues", while he reaffirmed that the police service and local officers do important work in keeping the community safe.
"Reform and change in policing is something this board and the Chief take seriously. Change is needed and is coming - it requires commitment by everybody," said McLean. "It's important that the change not be wrapped up in politics, and it would seem that the WRDSB had no interest in a respectful, meaningful dialogue prior to asking that the program be terminated - then, after the fact, tried to come back and inform us where we should allocate resources to."
"The conclusion that one could easily come to is that this decision and correspondence is about politics and not policy."
After reaching out to the WRDSB for comment on the cancellation of the SRO program, a spokesperson with the board noted that WRDS is "committed to addressing systemic barriers" while "building a community culture that is safe, equitable, and just for students and staff."
"We know from our partners that there is a need for community programming for youth in the Waterloo Region, especially for Black, Indigenous and other racialized children and youth." wrote WRDSB Communications Officer Estefanía Brandenstein. "We are asking for the funds previously used for the Student Resource Officer program now be used to fund community organizations that provide services for children and youth in the Waterloo Region."
That spokesperson also emphasized that the public school board values its partnership with Waterloo Regional Police as an "integral part of community safety", as she wrote that the WRDSB will work closely with WRPS to "develop a process that ensures safety for everyone and removes fear."