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Reactions mixed after Edmonton Public Schools votes to reinstate School Resource Officers

A group that represents students across the province says it opposes the Edmonton Public School’s decision to bring back the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

The board voted 5-3 in favour of resuming the program on Tuesday afternoon.

The program had been in public schools until the board made the decision to suspend it in September 2020 because of concerns about the impact on racialized and marginalized students.

Thirty-two people spoke at the meeting on Tuesday before the decision.

“The decision yesterday is deeply disappointing, because there has been multiple years of information being gathered about the harms of having school resource officers inside public schools,” Wing Li of Support our Students Alberta (SOS) told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.

“Many students who we have also spoken with find police in schools to be a perpetration of harm to them.”

She’s concerned bringing back SROs won’t actually address the problems causing safety issues in classrooms.

“Parents that aren’t in school think that it’s a good solution,” she said.

“It only serves for the perception of safety and not actually solving the root problems.”

Li says she was concerned about the lack of alternatives discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We know that there have been provincial cuts to funding, so schools have lost counsellors, they have lost wraparound support workers who are not police.”

“These adjacent personnel could be added back to schools with the money that they’re allotting to the SRO program.”

Dan Jones is the chair of Justice Studies at Norquest College and a former police inspector with the Edmonton Police Service who oversaw the SRO program for four years.

He says many SROs go above and beyond in their work with students.

“People don’t realize there’s a lot of times the SROs are working in schools and not wearing a uniform, they’re not carrying their gun, they’re wearing tracksuits. They’re coaching sports,” he commented on Wednesday.

He suggested most students who had experienced the SRO program felt the experience was worthwhile.

“The vast majority of students and parents that had the school resource officers involved actually liked it. And that was across the board, whether it was BIPOC communities, the LGBTQ community, it was all communities like having the SROs.”

He says the program is all about building relationships, and that can make students safer.

“Sometimes the SROs have relationships that they will get that information. Someone will be like, ‘Something that is going to happen.’ So you have an intelligence piece that sometimes prevents things from happening.”

He also says those relationships can stop kids from ending up in jail.

“The police officers get to see the whole story of these youths. You get to know them, you get to have a relationship with them, you’re not just dealing with them in that crisis moment.”

“Because you have that relationship, you want to work with them to help them through something rather than punish them.”

The details of how the SRO program will look when it resumes are still unclear, but the board voted Tuesday to give the superintendent authority over it.

Edmonton Catholic Schools has maintained its SRO program.

There are currently 13 SROs working in local Catholic schools.

With files from CTV news Edmonton’s Nav Sangha 

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