Julie Kusiek breaks promise to keep cops out of schools, is deciding vote to bring them back

The Edmonton Public School board has voted for a return of the cops-in-schools school resource officer (SRO) program, with the deciding vote coming from a trustee who told voters in 2021 that she was opposed to the program.

Board chair Julie Kusiek was unequivocal in her opposition to the SRO program while campaigning for her position.

“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.

At the Wednesday, April 30 EPSB meeting, Kusiek told the board, and a packed room of parents and local residents, that now with more information and after listening to principals and staff she had changed her mind. 

Edmonton Public School Board board chair Julie Kusiek speaks to the media after voting to bring back cops into schools, after explicitly campaigning not to. 

Dozens of principals and assistant principals did show up for the meeting—and though only one assistant principal spoke in favour of bringing back SROs. The overwhelming majority of speakers were against a return of police to Edmonton public schools, with 27 out of 33 speakers opposed. Many of the people speaking out against bringing back SROs were parents of students in Edmonton public schools.

I asked Julie Kusiek that if it were any other program, an arts program or a volleyball program where 18 per cent, nearly one in five, Indigenous students reported negative interactions with the person running the program, if it would continue. 

“I would expect that if there were concerns about any program that the board of trustees would be made aware of those concerns there would be a robust discussion,” said Kusiek. 

No evidence was presented on Wednesday that the SRO program helps academic outcomes or reduces crime at schools, but there is a great deal of evidence, even in the EPSB’s own reports, that school resource officers cause harm to students—especially Black, Indigenous and other marginalized students. 

Susan Ketteringham, one of the pro-SRO speakers and an assistant to a principal at a large north Edmonton school said, “I’m not here to talk about stats, I’m here to talk about how safety feels.” 

The head of security at Londonderry Mall, the most senior mall cop at Londonderry Mall, even showed up to support the motion to bring back SROs into the Edmonton public school system. 

Several academics including the president of the Canadian Sociological Association, Temitope Oriola, spoke out against the plan to bring back SROs. “Whatever problem you’re trying to solve, consider that you may be using the wrong tool,” said Oriola. 

The motion that was passed gives superintendent Darrel Robertson carte blanche to re-establish the SRO program with no trustee oversight. But even Robertson doesn’t seem to have a firm idea of what an effective SRO program would be. 

“How do we assess whether a program is effective or not? Is it less weapons confiscated? Is it better graduation rate?” Robertson mused in response to one trustee’s questions. 

Glynnis Lieb is a parent of several Black EPSB students and spoke at the meeting against SROs.

“If you’re a student and you’re struggling and you’re pointed towards a police officer it doesn’t matter how nice a person that officer is, the message to you is that your problem is criminal. If you’re struggling and instead you’re pointed to a social worker or a nurse the message is that you are someone who deserves help and you’re going to get it,” said Lieb. 

“This is going to be a hard conversation to have with [my boys] because we promised them something better. [It’s] heartbreaking.”

As a parent of an EPSB student, and someone who supported Kusiek in 2021 because of her commitment to keep SROs out of our schools, I was deeply frustrated as I listened to her betray the commitment she made in her campaign. I will be organizing a recall campaign against this trustee. Kusiek won by only 1647 votes, many of which were from people in my community who, like me, trusted her to keep her word. If you would like to support this recall campaign, please contact me personally at [email protected].