Edmonton's public school board is endorsing a new model to replace the school resource officer program for the new school year.
The program, which places police officers in 21 public schools, was scrutinized over the summer as dozens of members of the public argued in board meetings to end it.
School trustees were slated to vote on suspending the SRO program on Sept. 8, but decided it was no longer necessary. "It's really important for us as a school division that we made this decision now so that schools and principals can have the certainty about how they will be supported as the school year gets underway," said board chair Trisha Estabrooks.
The school resource officer program is to be replaced with a newly-developed Youth Enhanced Deployment [YED] model, according to news release Friday from Edmonton Public Schools.
Estabrooks emphasized the replacement model will not run similarly to the suspended SRO model. "These officers will have community policing duties in addition to responding to calls involving young people. These officers, and I want to be clear, will not be assigned to specific schools. They will not be based in any of Edmonton public schools," she said.
Police disappointed by decision
In a statement Friday, the Edmonton Police Service said it is disappointed by the school board's decision.
Outside EPS headquarters, Supt. Nicole Chapdelaine spoke about officers having to walk away from relationships made in schools through the SRO program.
"Those are hard to step away from. We're trying to find a response model that we can still do that in some sort of capacity or respecting the decision of the school board and allowing the research and the study to go on."
The new model is a modified version of the youth enhanced initiative launched by school resource officers in April in response to COVID-19 school closures, she said.
SRO officers will now be used as YED officers.
Under the new model, police officers will not be assigned to individual schools, but to two geographic areas — north and south — in the city.
Officers trained to respond to youth will answer calls in the school and community.
"They'll be responding to dispatch calls, particularly ones involving youth complaints, attending to spiking risk and high-risk youth according to EPS analytics, and following-up with vulnerable youth identified through reviewed reports," said Chapdelaine. Edmonton Public Schools superintendent Darrel Robertson says the Youth Enhanced Deployment model is a good replacement to help keep students safe while the SRO program is suspended.
The Edmonton Police Service "is looking to try to build relationships with youth that will happen outside of the school, working with community partners, so on and so forth," Robertson said.
"They're looking at trying to keep youth out of the criminal justice system, and I think that goal of diversion will continue in their work with the Youth Enhanced Deployment model."
BLM organizers pleased by board decision
Organizers of Black Lives Matter Edmonton released a statement on Friday stating they're pleased with decision to suspend the SRO program. The group encouraged community members to attend a board meeting to demand the end of the SRO program or email their trustees.
Hannan Mohamud, co-host of Is This For Real podcast, was the co-author of the letter campaign that was launched by BLM Edmonton. She did not expect the school board to suspend the SRO program. "I'm very surprised and happy about it, but concerned about what the next steps they're supposing to implement and what it'll actually do for our community."
SRO program being evaluated
An independent evaluation of the school resource officer program approved in June will continue while the division moves to the new model.
At the time, trustees couldn't agree on whether the program should be suspended while it was under scrutiny. In a split vote, a motion to temporarily remove officers from schools was defeated.
The new model was developed by public school staff in collaboration with EPS. The two organizations will continue to review the program and make adjustments throughout the year, according to the release.
The model has been proposed only for the 2020-21 school year at this time.
Edmonton Catholic continue SRO program
Edmonton Catholic Schools confirmed it will continue to use the SRO program this school year. "The program and partnership with the Edmonton Police Service is an important student support service in our division. said chief superintendent Robert Martin in an emailed statement. "To ensure that the SRO program is effective at meeting the needs of all students in our division, we will be conducting a program evaluation during the 2020/21 school year to assess the program's strengths and areas for growth," Martin said.
Currently there are 15 SROs in 14 schools; six junior high schools and eight high schools, he said.