A program that puts police officers inside Toronto's public schools to protect students has been temporarily scrapped following complaints by Black Lives Matter and pro-immigration groups.
The School Resource Officers program has been in place since 2008. It was started in response to the 2007 fatal shooting of 15-year-old student Jordan Manners, the first death in a Toronto school.
On Wednesday night, trustees with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted to temporarily suspend the program following months campaigning by a local chapter of Black Lives Matter and other left-leaning groups, the CBC reported.
The program will be halted at least until November as it is reviewed and assessed. According to TDSB chair Robin Pilkey, officers had to be removed from schools while the review is underway to ensure no one is intimidated by their presence.
“It was felt that the presence of (officers) during the review when we were asking people to talk about them might be intimidating and create a potential bias,” Pilkey told the Toronto Star.
Among the most vocal opponents of the program is a local chapter of Black Lives Matter, which wants to see it scrapped to combat perceived anti-black racism in education. The group hailed the decision to suspend the plan as “an important step forward," but warned it was not a “full victory” yet.
“Community action works!” wrote official Toronto Black Lives Matter Facebook page. “While this is not a full victory, this is an important step forward. After years of activism from groups like Education Not Incarceration (ENI), and the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network (LAEN), the TDSB has undertaken a thorough review of the program to happen throughout the fall.”
The activists then criticized the police for conducting their own review of the program, saying “We remain skeptical of any instance in which cops are reviewing other cops.”
The statement added: "It's time to hear from students themselves about their experiences with police surveillance, criminalization, profiling, and their experiences with armed police officers in their classrooms. The work has only begun."
The Latin American Education Network co-chair Andrea Vasquez Jimenez also celebrated the decision, claiming she cried when the trustees suspended the program as it hurt undocumented students.
"We've had administration call out their undocumented status in front of SRO's, in front of police officers," she told CBC, adding that there is the fear that Toronto police and the Canada Border Services Agency are working together.
Not everyone, however, was against police in schools. Ethan Thompson, a Northern Secondary School student, claimed the officer in his school also taught students about the law and was just “a helpful, nice guy in our school.”
"I personally liked him. He wasn't a police officer to us. He came into our class and taught us about law and kind of gave us an inside scoop on his take. It wasn't really a police officer figure," said Thompson, according to CBC. "It was just a helpful, nice guy in our school."
The Mayor of Toronto, John Tory, has also come out against the school board’s decision, saying it would have been better to conduct the review – without temporarily scrapping the program – to address the concerns of some students.
"I thought the school board would do what we were doing at the Police Services Board, which is to have a very thorough review, which takes very particular account of some of the concerns that have been expressed in the negative about this program, listen to all points of view in all parts of the community, and then make a decision," he said.
"They've chosen to go a different route, which is to do away for now with a program that I think had some supporters, quite a few, and then do the review, which isn't the way I'd do it."