Edmonton Public School Board trying to bring back School Resource Officers

An Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) trustee is calling for cops to return to schools, in a motion that will be debated at a special board meeting on April 30, 2024

Marsha Nelson, a first-term school board trustee and former teacher and principal who represents Ward B in northeast Edmonton, put forward the motion which would set the stage for a return of the controversial school resource officer (SRO) program. 

Nelson’s motion asks if the “the board is open to Edmonton Police Service having a formal role in division schools to enhance student and staff safety.” Her motion also calls for any decision on policing and security to be removed from the board’s authority and for it to revert back to the superintendent. 

The SRO program was suspended and SROs were removed from EPSB schools in September 2020 over concerns about the impact of armed and uniformed police officers on racialized and marginalized youth in schools. The program has since undergone a review commissioned by EPSB and an extensive consultation process with students, parents and teachers. 

Bridget Stirling, a former EPSB trustee and a PhD candidate in education policy who was instrumental in the suspension of the program, told the Report that the return of the SRO program would mean a return to a system that was harming vulnerable students. 

“If this passes not only would there be SROs back in schools, but trustees are giving away their ability to have any kind of oversight over police in schools or any kind of accountability to the public on this issue,” said Stirling.  

“We know both from the EPSB study and other research that a minority population of students experience significant harms from police in schools. Even the EPSB’s own flawed study found that 18 per cent of Indigenous and 11 percent of black students had a negative experience with an SRO. You wouldn’t continue any school program where nearly one in five Indigenous students reported negative interactions,” said Stirling.  

Negative experiences with SROs, as reported by students, included poor or dismissive treatment following victimization incidents, intimidation, hyper-surveillance, harsh or aggressive language against students, false allegations, police brutality, harsh or unfair punishment, and allegations that SROs often paid too much attention to “popular” students. 

“All of my SRO interactions were negative. They were always weird and condescending, racist, transphobic, weird ass guy,” wrote one student about their negative interactions. 

“He put cuffs on me because I was Black. Thought it was funny. I didn’t feel that way,” said another. 

The Progress Report has also reported on the troubled history of the program, which was frequently used as a ‘holding place’ for officers who had been found guilty of police brutality or other misconduct. 

Const.  Patrick Hannas, left, and Const. Lael Sauter, right, are pictured in the 2010-2011 St. Joseph High School yearbook. Both are featured in our feature report on SROs from 2020 headlined: 'A holding place for bad cops?' Police brutality, misconduct and school resource officers

Omar Yaqub is the executive director at IslamicFamily and has spoken publicly about SRO alternatives in the past.

“An alternative to the SRO program could be the EPSB working to train community workers to provide high intensity intervention and support within schools. A high intensity intervention would, instead of involving a student in the criminal justice system, have a worker show up at a student’s house and drive them to school. We know this works and we know it’s cheaper. We have EPSB examples of this working,” said Yaqub.

“Even if we wanted to bring back the SRO program there’s a recruiting backlog. There aren't the officers and the time it would take to recruit them would be extensive. Officers also cost roughly double what a community worker would and officers don’t necessarily have the cultural competency and language abilities to interact with students and parents. We don’t want 12-year-olds to get involved in the criminal justice system,” said Yaqub.

Board chair Julie Kusiek was also unequivocal in her opposition to the SRO program when campaigning to be a trustee in 2021. 

“I do not support reinstating the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. I do not support having uniformed police in Edmonton Public Schools as part of the regular school day,” Kusiek wrote in 2021. 

The April 30 meeting will be open to the public, though those who would like to speak must register by noon on Monday, April 29, by calling 780-429-8443.

The meeting will be held in the McCauley Chambers, 2nd floor, at the Centre for Education at One Kingsway, next to the Victoria High School at 9:30 am on April 30. 

Those who cannot attend the public meeting may also contact their trustee directly; the EPSB maintains a site online where you can find your trustee and their contact information.