Simcoe County councillors believe school resource officers should be allowed to walk the halls of area schools.
Members of county council voted unanimously to send a letter of support to the Township of Adjala-Tosorontio after being presented with a resolution by that local council earlier this week for what they believe is a “valuable service to continue within the school community.”
Although discussion Tuesday questioned proper jurisdiction on the matter, county council opted to pass its own resolution from an advocacy perspective, which included having a copy of the warden’s letter of support circulated to the lower-tier member municipalities, Simcoe County school boards, local MPPs, the solicitor general and the minister of education.
Although some schools have resource officers, the Simcoe County District School Board has never implemented a formal school resource officer program board-wide, noted a Nov. 2 letter to the Nottawasaga Police Services Board from school board chair Jodi Lloyd.
“We need our police back in our schools,” said Bradford West Gwillimbury Mayor James Leduc.
Collingwood Deputy Mayor Tim Fryer brought up the idea that council create additional communication to board officials, insisting it set “some kind of policy” board-wide.
“We think it’s a very worthwhile endeavour to have them in the schools to encourage the policing community. I feel strongly about it. We are paying for it in our budget and I really think they need to be in the school,” he said.
“We just heard a session last week on how to protect your child from human trafficking. Listening to some of the information being given, it seems like more and more of these students are going to be looking for help. I think having an officer wandering through the halls is going to be a good thing.”
It’s positive for children to see police officers as friendly people they can get to know and trust, added Severn Township Deputy Mayor Judith Cox.
“We don’t have community policing officers like we used to and that was always a good feeling in the town and in the school for the children,” she said. “I definitely think we should all be telling the school board that.”
Although funding was available a number of years ago to create mental health support programs in schools, that doesn’t entirely solve the issue, said Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Paul Van Staveren.
“Basically, the school board has kicked out the police services. The problem is the kids need a relationship with a police officer. They need to be comfortable with that police officer, and this is a county-wide problem. It’s even a provincewide problem,” he said.
“This goes right back to the school board feeling they’re intimidated or whatever. I think we need to come down a little heavier … (and) say we want this.”
Essa Township Mayor Sandie Macdonald said the Nottawasaga Police Services Board has done its due diligence of trying to get the school board on side with the issue, and intends to keep pushing it.
“Some of the things happening in the schools are very scary and they could be minimized or eliminated by having that presence,” said Macdonald, whose community is policed by Nottawasaga OPP.
“There is a high number of kids today that are afraid to go to school. This whole removing resource officers from school makes absolutely no sense,” added Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith. “We have heard for years (of) the fear children can have of authority like police officers ... and it starts at the elementary level … and moves up from there.”
Wasaga Beach Deputy Mayor Tanya Snell, a former public school board trustee, said she sat at the table at the time the decision was made to remove resource officers from schools.
“It was presented to the board that there was some feedback from some students who were feeling profiled and some concern around comfort levels. I feel the board made a swift decision, perhaps too swift of a decision, to cut all of the services,” she said.
Other concerns were that several of the in-school programs being offered by police were outdated and not equal in their representation, Snell added.
“I think each of us, as municipalities, needs to reach out to our trustees, have a conversation and advocate they bring forward a motion … to revisit this policy,” she said. “We can send letters all we want, but unless we have voices at that table who are willing to put forward the motions to bring the conversation back, nothing is going to go anywhere.”
Midland Mayor Bill Gordon was glad to hear the board may have made a “reactionary knee-jerk decision” in removing resource officers from schools.
“It’s part of the whole woke (thing). Well-meaning but ill-advised decisions are made quickly, but without any evidence because of the vocal outcry of a minority — and I don’t mean visible or ethnic. Often, it only takes a few passionate people to trigger some of these changes that we are slowly trying to walk back now,” Gordon said.
“I think if the school boards are peppered with these requests from their elected officials … (who can) speak for the residents, then maybe our voice will overshadow a few people who are being very vocal in the news and maybe triggered some of these reactionary policies.”
In June 2021, two parent groups provided deputations to the public school board calling for the dissolution of police programs in local schools, citing incidents of Black or Indigenous students feeling unsafe, as well as suggesting social workers, not police, should be providing mental health and wellness supports.