County councillors question removal of police resource officers from schools

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Some county councillors are not happy about an Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) decision to remove School Resource Officers from local schools.

However, council is planning to gather more information and work through appropriate channels to provide any response to the decision.

In a unanimous vote, UGDSB trustees passed a motion on April 27 to remove the School Resource Officer program from all elementary and secondary schools.

At the April 29 county council meeting, councillor George Bridge asked councillor David Anderson, the county’s police services board representative, if the board had discussed how Wellington County OPP would reach out to students in the absence of the program.

“I do believe it’s a bad idea” to end the program, said Bridge.

“In Wellington I think we always did an excellent job and I looked forward to seeing those reports from the board.

“Have you discussed with your board what those officers may be doing in the future? I know they haven’t been going into the schools because of COVID.”

Anderson noted Wellington OPP detachment commander Inspector Paul Richardson had an opportunity to address the school board during its deliberations “and basically gave a lot of positives in his presentation as to what our officers are doing in our schools in the County of Wellington.

“It’s kind of funny, because there’s no cost to our school system to have our police officers in the schools.”

Anderson added, “Our police officers in the schools are actually developing good working relationships with the students and basically … if students have an issue … we’re finding there’s a better chance of them going to the police officer for direction and from my perspective it’s a huge mistake in taking them out of the school system.”

Anderson said he has spoken with police services board chair Joanne Ross-Zuj about the matter and plans to discuss the issue with northern Wellington school board trustee Robin Ross.

While the police board hasn’t had a chance to discuss the UGDSB decision, Anderson said he anticipates a report from Richardson at the May meeting and said he would report back to council after that.

“I know its early times on this … I think it’s a terrible decision. I think it’s fabulous for the officers as a point of contact with youth, an early point of contact, and great for the kids,” said councillor Campbell Cork.

“Have you had any kind of indication where this is coming from? I thought it was a terrific program.”

Anderson replied, “It is a terrific program. There’s one thing you have to realize. Upper Grand school board covers a larger area than just Wellington County. It also incorporates the City of Guelph. It incorporates Dufferin County.

“So there are other regions that, basically, they don’t have the same rapport, the police officers don’t have the same rapport that we are experiencing in Wellington County.

“And I think that’s what driving it. We’ve got good statistics. We’ve got statistics that show what they’re able to do in our school system.”

Anderson explained, “If you take the City of Guelph, for instance, they don’t have the same statistics to prove that.”

He encouraged other councillors to contact their local school board trustee to make their feelings known on the issue.

“I think that’s all we can do and see how they would like to respond to that,” he stated.

Warden Kelly Linton suggested waiting for more information before taking any action.

“I think it’s important to clarify the police services board met before this decision was made and we haven’t had the time to go through all the assumptions that were made,” noted Linton.

“I know that the inspector has been working on options, depending on what the task force came up with … What they’ve indicated to us is it is really important for them to have a very positive relationship with the schools and, however that looks based on what the school board decision is, they will make sure that it works.”

Linton added, “So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to do a whole lot of conjecture right now. This is going to be coming back to police services board … this isn’t something that they’re not prepared for.

“And we’ll made sure that a fulsome report comes to council.”

Councillor Don McKay asked if it would be appropriate for council to send a letter to the school board “Indicating our concerns and why we think it’s a wrong move,.”

Linton replied, “I think it probably makes more sense to wait for the report. There’s a lot of information that we don’t have right now … were operating in a vacuum.

“I would suggest that we don’t do anything. Let’s wait until we have fulsome information and then we can respond accordingly, through the proper channel and that would be the police services board.”

Councillor Doug Breen said, “With my experience coaching high school football in Guelph, I’ve actually have  found officers in the school where I am, Our Lady of Lourdes, an absolute Godsend and I don’t fully understand this decision.”

However, Breen added, “I know how I would feel if Upper Grand District School Board was sort of catcalling our decisions and telling us what we should be doing in the County of Wellington …

“I really don’t think we should be in a position of telling another duly elected body how run their business.”

Breen said he planned to take his concerns on the issue to the local trustee for his area “as a ratepayer.”

Councillor Diane Ballantyne pointed out the local school board is not breaking new ground with the move.

“In fact Upper Grand is behind the curve on this. School resource officers were removed from York and Toronto, two of the biggest school boards in the province back in 2017,” she said.

“They were removed from Peel and Hamilton in 2020. So we are actually behind the curve in this particular topic and I would happily recommend Robyn Maynard’s book Policing Black Lives for councillors to further their education in understanding the role of school resource officers in schools in the province of Ontario.”

Ballantyne added, “And if you had the time, to read what the school board published with regard to that.

“The resource officer is removed but that doesn’t stop police officers from being able to go into schools to make presentations on various different topics that have been vetted by the board.”