Students and advocates spoke out against a program that sees police officers stationed in schools during a rally held outside of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) head offices on Wednesday.
The school liaison officer (SLO) program, which currently has 17 officers stationed across the district, is the subject of a review ordered last year by the school board.
An independent report into the future of the program was released in March. It noted a wide range of opinions on the program from both supporters and opponents. School trustees are expected to make recommendations on SLO’s future at a board meeting on April 26.
But Quincy Johnson, a high school student in Vancouver, said she felt ignored by the VSB and that the report failed to properly reflect student experiences.
“The reasons people have listed for keeping this program are outweighed by the pain this program has caused Black, Indigenous and students of colour,” she told a crowd on Wednesday.
“If we need mental help support at our school, hire mental health professionals of colour. If we need legal support, hire someone who can give a professional legal opinion.”
Owen Ebose, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student, said the presence of an armed officer in his school hindered his learning and made many students feel unsafe, regardless of their background.
“When you have that uniform on, when you have that gun, what kind of message are you sending to students — are you sending a message that they’re a threat?” he said.
“Not all police officers are racist … it’s the system in which they’re operating, it’s what they represent and that’s the problem that we’re trying to eradicate and get out of our schools.”
Police say SLOs make schools ‘safe and inclusive’
Const. Tania Visintin, spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department, said in a statement that “much of what our SLOs do daily is engage with the students and make the schools a safe and inclusive place for them to learn. While we certainly do investigations, our focus is on ‘public safety’ and student/staff engagement.”
She wrote that the goals of the SLO program include the prevention of crime, investigating offences, and promoting of law enforcement as a career option, among others.
In a statement, the Vancouver School Board wrote that it supports “a safe and positive school and community environment, recognizing the varied lived experiences of students and their families. The district recognizes the conversation about the school liaison officer (SLO) program is deeply important and personal to many in our community.”
“Trustees were and continue to be very interested in hearing from VSB students and, in particular, the voices and perspectives of students with lived experiences with the SLO program and of students who identify as being part of the Black, Indigenous, people of colour communities.”