The Greater Victoria School Board will review the role of school liaison officers. (Black Press Media file photo)

Greater Victoria School District to review role of school liaison officers

SD61 will create committee to consult with community members

The Greater Victoria School Board will review the role police liaison officers play in schools.

An approved motion put forward at the June 26 board meeting will see a committee take on discussions with school community members about the liaison officer program and develop recommendations on potential changes.

The discussions would be with people including, but not limited to, racialized, Indigenous and LGBTQ staff, parents and students. The motion passed with the amendment that a separate committee undertake the task of reviewing the program and report back to the board.

Trustee Rob Paynter brought forward the recommended motion at the June 8 operations policy and planning committee meeting.

“We need to undertake the conversation and see if we can make a positive step forward,” Paynter said at the committee meeting. “It would be really useful to engage members of other communities within our broader school community to find out what the broad range of perspectives is.”

A motion to curb the police liason program while the review is underway was voted down during the June 26 meeting, but the review will still go ahead.

Two community members spoke in support of the program at a committe meeting June 22.

Jennifer Chambers is a Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) member who has been a teacher for more than 20 years at SD61. She has seen first hand that officers approach issues with training other officers don’t receive.

“They commit to the long-term work of building relationships and trust,” Chambers said.

The other supporter was Mia Golden, who is part of the Mobile Youth Services Team (MYST) which is comprised of two counsellors and one police officer. The team supports youth and families at risk of gang involvement and sex trafficking. Golden said she has seen the risk to students rise over the past five years with increasing social media and phone use. Building a trusting relationship with police officers is vital for youth at risk, Golden said.

In 2018, the Victoria Police Department pulled school liaison officers so they could be transferred to frontline work after VicPD’s budget request for six more officers was denied. The 2020 VicPD budget shows plans to possibly reinstate liaison officers in schools.

Both Golden and Chambers said not having school liaison officers has been detrimental to students, overwhelming MYST with calls and not providing the best quality responses to situations with students. Without trained liaison officers, front line officers with different training are called in more frequently, leading to a reactive rather than proactive response, Chambers said.

“We need to continue to work with community partners in creating wraparound interdisciplinary supports for vulnerable populations,” Chambers said. “And school liaison officers are important.”

GVTA president Winona Waldron said the association encourages SD61 to review the role of liaison officers in schools and seek input from staff and Black, Indigenous and people of colour students.

“Recent events have shone a light on institutional racism and in particular, in policing. We need to acknowledge it’s not just in policing and that it’s seen in health care and our own structures in education.”

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca

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