Wellington County councillors weigh-in on UGDSB review of police presence in schools

By: Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com
County of Wellington councillors had some thoughts on the possibility of losing the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in light of a soon-to-be completed review by the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB).
The UGDSB has been undergoing a review of its police presence through a task force since last year, after receiving questions and concern from the community over treatment of BIPOC students.
During Thursday’s county council meeting, Coun. David Anderson said while giving a report on the Police Services Board meeting that Robin Ross, board trustee and task force member, mentioned to him the Wellington County OPP had been very forthcoming with information relating to this program compared to other police departments.
Anderson thanked Wellington County OPP detachment commander Insp. Paul Richardson for giving this information and his support for the program.
“It’s amazing what these officers are doing for our kids and keeping in touch,” Anderson said. “They’re really helping a lot of kids who need help in our school system.”
Minto mayor George Bridge asked how far along this review is because he’s concerned about not having police officers in school.
Richardson said this question was timely as he was recently sharing data with UGDSB members to help with their recommendations expected soon.
“We certainly value our relationship with the students and the schools and we want to be part of the lives of youth in this community,” Richardson said. “We’re hoping those recommendations support that.”
Mapleton mayor Gregg Davidson, also formerly a Halton Region police officer, said in his experience SROs are a necessity.
“I remember when this program started…when I was policing and it certainly made a difference,” Davidson said.
“It made a difference in the crime in the schools and the lives of the students themselves.”
Coun. Doug Breen said as a high school football coach in Guelph, he has seen this program benefit students going down a bad path but acknowledged there is room for improvement.
“I absolutely understand concerns with the program and I’m sure if we dig deep enough we’d find some horror stories,” he said.
“I hope there are things we can do to keep making it better but to knee-jerk throw it out for political reasons I think is a very bad idea.”
Coun. Diane Ballantyne, a teacher at Centre Wellington District High School, countered some comments made at the meeting.
She said other people’s experiences with police are not the same as those on council.
“Questions about the SRO program are not just about ‘politics,’” Ballantyne said.
“They are about the lived experiences of racialized communities which, again, is not reflected around this particular horseshoe or is our lived experience. I trust the board is gathering input and insight from a variety of diverse voices and they will come to the conclusion that is going to best serve the students in the UGDSB.”
The task force is expected to bring forward a recommendation to the UGDSB by the end of March.