A debate to cease posting Ottawa police officers in the capital's English-language public high schools took a late-night turn, as one trustee sought to merely suspend the program, not end it entirely.
A motion to "immediately and completely end" the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board's school resource officer program passed last week at the committee level. Once presented to the full school board for final approval, an amendment sought to soften the wording, temporarily suspending the program, instead.
"Let's just suspend for now, and work with the [Ottawa Police Service] and our racialized communities to design a re-invented program that works better for them," said Trustee Keith Penny, introducing his amendment.
Penny expressed concern about losing the officers provided by the city's police service, when the school board lacks funding and resources to replace it with something else. He was also worried about the potential consequences of telling the police service that its officers were no longer welcome in the board's schools.
"Yes, they will engage with our school community, but they will engage with our school community by arresting and charging our students at-risk," Penny told his fellow trustees.
"That is doing more harm."
Trustee Lyra Evans, who moved the original motion to end the school resource officer program, said the program was broken at its foundation and that there was no trust between the police and marginalized communities in Ottawa.
"The police need to rebuild that trust with those communities, and we can't have them doing it in our schools at the expense of the mental health of our students," said Evans.
Groups opposed to the school resource officer program have said that the presence of officers makes racialized students and others feel scared and anxious. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board consulted with Black and Indigenous students on the future of the school resource officer program in March of this year, and Evans said that a temporary suspension would show that trustees "are not committed to the actions that our communities have asked of us."
The amendment to change the wording was defeated, shortly before 11 p.m., Tuesday. However, because the meeting had run so late, trustees agreed to resume debate on the motion to end the school resource officer program, Thursday evening.