Critiques of the police-in-schools program have prompted the province’s largest school board to assess the annual expense and contemplate an equity-based review of it.
Late Monday, Winnipeg School Division trustees voted to refer the school resource officer program to the board’s finance committee for discussion.
"We just want people to know we heard, we’re listening, we’re trying to be respectful and thoughtful in our response," said Betty Edel, chairwoman of the board.
The motion was passed after two delegations spoke in support of disbanding the community policing initiative at the virtual board meeting.
A growing number of Winnipeggers have raised concerns about the program in recent weeks, in the wake of the launch of Police-Free Schools Winnipeg.
Organized by a dozen teachers, parents and community members, the campaign calls for a review of the program, which they argue is too costly, an example of "police over-reach," and deters racialized students who have had negative experiences with authorities from attending class.
Tanis Baydak told the board the funds spent on police salaries should be redirected to support lunch programs in low-income neighbourhoods.
"Ultimately, I hope to see the program defunded and the money going back into the schools in a more direct way," Baydak said during a Tuesday interview, adding her family and others in the Mynarski neighbourhood have to pay $25 per child per month for lunch-hour supervision.
Last year, the WSD paid approximately $450,000 for nine uniformed officers to work in its schools, with officer duties ranging from giving anti-drug presentations to participating in threat assessments.
The officers, whose goal is to both build trust and understanding between police and communities and decrease incidents of bullying, violence and graffiti in schools, are funded by divisions, the provincial government and the Winnipeg Police Service.
In the early 2000s, Edel advocated for the program to be introduced to Winnipeg. A long-time North End resident with a resume of community development, Edel, who is Métis, has said her hope was it would build understanding between Indigenous families and police.
On Tuesday, she said she has spoken with division administration about wanting to launch an equity-based review of the program that seeks out experiences of all students. The finance committee, on which she sits, is expected to review the program and report back.
Meantime, a note sent to trustees Monday, which was penned by superintendent Pauline Clarke, indicates the City of Winnipeg is awaiting their decision on the new program contract.
Nineteen school resource officers work in six city divisions; all other divisions who partner with the city have already signed the new agreement, which was approved by city council last week.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.