High School students have another thing to look forward this September – police with guns patrolling their hallways. On June 23rd, the chair of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), John Campbell, announced that at least 22 public and 8 Catholic schools will each get a police officer this fall – for security and to supposedly ‘build relationships’ with students. Campbell first said the cops would be walking around in jeans and golf shirts “meeting… and talking to kids”, but he was corrected the next day by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who made it clear that the officers would have both their uniforms and their weapons in the schools.
While we’re told that the police are supposed to help with security in schools, a School Safety report released in January (in response to the Jordan Manners killing at CW Jeffreys last year) did not make any recommendations to put police in schools. This Safety Report was written by a three-person advisory panel, after surveys of students and teachers at two west-end schools, and made many recommendations on how to improve school security – none of which included police being sent into high schools. However, the report did talk about the devastating effects of the social service cuts to Ontario in the 1990s, as well as the destructive use of the Safe Schools Act. Surveys showed that Black youth feel that racial discrimination by teachers is a major problem – and that they experience racism from the police outside of school. So the decision to put armed cops in Toronto High Schools made by the School Board ignored advice both from a community panel they appointed, and the feelings of their own students.
You only need to look at the US, which has put armed police in the schools of many of its major cities, to see what this policy will mean for students. In New York, youth are regularly brutalized and arrested for swearing, being late for class, having cell phones or not having hall passes. A number of times, teachers and even principles have been arrested for trying to protect their students. On a regular basis across the United States, youth have to be sent to hospital for injuries received from police while in school.
Will Toronto cops be very different? The announcement from the School Board was made a week after Toronto police were cleared by the S.I.U. in the murders of 17-year-old high school student Alwy Al-Nadhir and 28-year-old Byron Debassige, both of whom were unarmed when murdered by police. And according to the School Board, police will be put primarily in “schools who have the highest suspension rate and highest crime rate”. We know this means schools with the highest number of poor, black, brown and native kids. These are youth who are already threatened, brutalized and arrested by police on a daily basis in this city. There’s no reason to believe that the way police treat youth every day on the streets will be any different in the halls of a high school.
TDSB should focus on implementing community services and after-school programs for youth, and dealing with its own systematic racism and discrimination, instead of making schools a more intimidating and oppressive place for youth.