The first of six community consultations on the controversial Student Resource Officer program that puts armed police in schools across the city was held Wednesday night, with many participants telling TDSB representatives that it "may not be the best fit in our schools."
The Toronto District School Board hosted the event at the Jamaican Canadian Community Centre in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood, not far from the school, C.W. Jefferys Collegiate, that had a key role in the program's beginnings. It was there that 15-year-old Jordan Manners was gunned down. The following year, the SRO program was launched.
Jim Spyropoulos, executive superintendent at the TDSB whose job portfolio includes managing the SRO program, said Wednesday that while attendees expressed an array of opinions, many want to see it cancelled.
"We heard from a community that feels historically they have been perhaps over-policed, and the impact that that has on an entire community, and especially on school-age children that have the presence of a uniformed and armed police officer in their school," Spyropoulos told CBC Toronto.
The "majority of voices," he said, advised the board to take a closer look at the SRO program "and perhaps this may not be the best fit in our schools."
'There was a lot of frustration'
Under the program, officers were deployed in 36 of 75 TDSB schools. But opponents, including Black Lives Matter Toronto and other groups, have called for the board to terminate the program, arguing that officers in schools intimidate black students, and students from other minority communities.
Last month, TDSB trustees voted to suspend the program until at least November pending a review, which includes the six community consultations. The Toronto Police Services Board is also reviewing the program.
Andrea Vasquez Jimenez of LAEN (Latinx, Afro-Latin-America Abya Yala Education Network), said her organization is "extremely proud" of the TDSB for providing the space for community members to speak out.
Teachers, students, parents and others "who have been most negatively impacted and have had a lot to say about their lived experiences and realities with police presence in schools" spoke during the event, she said.
"Definitely in regards to the emotion, there were a lot of people very much concerned of our youth," Vasquez Jimenez said.
"There was a lot of frustration and a lot of misunderstanding as to why the program, the SRO program, AKA police presence in schools, even exists in the first place."
She said questions from attendees included whether the program is evaluated on an ongoing basis, and concerns were raised about the program being akin to carding in schools, anti-black racism, and whether schools are part of what she called "a school-to-prison pipeline."
Her organization is holding its own information sessions about the SRO program, including one on Oct. 11 at the Black Creek Community Health Centre.
'As inclusive as possible'
Meanwhile, Spyropoulos said the review is part of a "different way of doing business" for the board, as it works to engage community members who are traditionally marginalized. The board is also open to hosting more than six public events and in different formats if members of the community ask for them.
The board is also asking students and teachers to fill out a survey, and is also hosting student-only information sessions.
"We are trying to be as inclusive as possible," he said.
The board hopes to bring a final report to trustees in November, when they can vote on the program's future.