HWDSB trustees vote to terminate partnership with Police Liaison Program

At Monday’s marathon board meeting, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees voted 7-3 to cancel the Police Liaison Program program, which saw School Resource Officers (SRO’s) in their schools as part of a partnership with the Hamilton Police Service and school boards around Hamilton.

Empty trustee boardrooom during Covid-19 virtual meetings (snapshot from HWDSBtv)

On Tuesday, HWCDSB discussed the topic of SRO’s in their fifty-four schools, during which time board chair Pat Daly assured that the equity committee would include the prospect of trustee Phil Homerski’s question as to whether there are any officers involved in racial issues within their schools as part of its review.

In Edmonton, public school trustees voted to review the SRO program in their schools, while a motion to suspend the program, not unlike what was attempted at the June 8th HWDSB meeting, was defeated on a tie vote. The Edmonton meeting saw more casualties than the Hamilton SRO program, with a trustee stepping down from office after a backlash in response to her comments defending the program

The HWDSB meeting ran for almost 6 hours, finishing just before midnight. A very drawn-out discussion ensued which began during the review of the Equity Action Plan, and continued into an open debate before a motion to permanently terminate HWDSB’s partnership with the police liaison program was tabled.

Youth & their supporters blocked off Main St outside Hamilton City Hall. Photo by C. Galindo

As a former trustee who tabled many motions myself, I appreciated this move to enter into a less formal debate structure. The stringent rules surrounding providing arguments for a motion can be very limiting and can often leave one frustrated with so many thoughts being left unvoiced.

Although the discussion to terminate the SRO program was lengthy and at times heated, there were several strong arguments that eventually led to the vote being in favour of cancelling the program altogether, which I believe to have been the right move. 

I have previously discussed  my visions for a new school system built from the ground up, including arguing why police officers shouldn’t be in our schools, for a number of the same reasons discussed during Monday’s meeting.

“There are no police liaison officers within the school which is not out of disrespect for the roles law enforcement play in our communities, but rather to be mindful that some students or their families may have had encounters with the law. School needs to be a place of hope. Of forgiveness. Second chances, without reminders of where life may have taken them so far, but of the opportunities available to them through our programming, mentorship, and compassion – free of judgement and void feeling as though they are under law enforcement’s watchful eye.” 

INSE | Integrated Network for Social Education

Below are links to documents and letters related to the SRO program, as well as a link to the ‘video’ feed for Monday’s Board.

Agenda: https://www.hwdsb.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/meetings/Board-Agenda-1592585037.pdf (Appendices A through C starting at page 7-5, give an overview of the Hamilton School Board Protocol 2016, the Police Liaison Officer Program, and an outline of the scope of the review of the SRO program that was supposed to occur.

The full Hamilton Police/School Board Protocol 2016 can be found here as well – https://hwdsb.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Hamilton-Police-School-Board-Protocol-2016.pdf

Please note that trustee Christine Bingham moved a motion to relocate item 8A to appear before item 8, to avoid any amendments to her item 8 motion. Her motion would eventually be withdrawn due to a motion to cancel the SRO program instead of pausing it being tabled. Of course that motion would eventually pass.

Appendices: https://www.hwdsb.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/meetings/Board-Appendices-1592866080.pdf

Video: (The associated links will take you right to the point in the meeting audio where these individuals spoke.)

Board meeting for Monday June 22, 2020 – HWDSBtv

·         10:45 – Correspondence from J. Weresch https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=645

Correspondence can be found at 6-1 of the agenda linked above.

·         13:45 –Equity Action Plan https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=828

The report can be found at 7-1 of the agenda linked above. Please also see the appendices linked above, which is referenced during the presentation of the report. Report runs until 53:47.

·         54:38 – Trustee general discussion on any area of the action plan,
except those specific to the SRO program https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=3276

·         1:52:35 – Trustee discussion on the review of SRO program interim report specifically https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=6754  Discussion continues to 2:43:40.

·         2:43:47 – 8A Human Rights and Equity Report https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=9833 The report can be found at 8A-1 of the agenda 

·         2:48: 14 – Open discussion on the topic of the Police Liaison Program before the motion moved by the Human Rights & Equity Community Advisory Committee asking for a full termination of the SRO program, is tabled.  https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=10088

A few statements made during this discussion that specifically reached me.

4:28:40 – Motion to terminate the SRO program https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=16125

4:53:01 – Final vote on the motion to terminate the SRO program https://youtu.be/NHW4BLl2ZXQ?t=17648

4:56:06 – Vote passed 

Rain couldn’t stop downtown advocates

Monday’s Vote Breakdown:

Trustees (There are a total of 11 Trustees serving 15 wards)
There were three trustees against, seven for, and one not present for the vote.

Student Trustees (Their vote doesn’t count towards the official vote tally)
Both student trustees voted for the termination of the SRO program

To end on a more personal note, Monday was a substantial victory for students. I hope their passionate advocacy continues because there is a great deal more to advocate for with regards to so many of our public institutions, including public education. You may agree or not on how the discourse leading up to Monday’s vote played out, but I know personally that I can look back 25 years ago to when I first started to find my political voice and how my advocacy has changed over the past two and half decades.

First find your voice, and then let it grow and evolve. You may have regrets looking back on past action, but recognizing mistakes, acknowledging them, and growing from them is what makes a great leader and what will grow the effectiveness of your voice. You may hurt people along the way. You may even find yourself years later running for office and faced with your suddenly human adversary. Be you, but take stock often of how you want to be remembered.

Unless an emergency meeting is called we won’t see the empty Board horseshoe again until September. In the fall, students will have gained another strong voice at the table with trustees having approved the appointment of a third student trustee.  Skylar Seggie, who is part of the SHAE program that operates out of Hamilton Regional Indian Center here in Crown Point, will be HWDSB’s first student representative filling the role of Indigenous Student Trustee. Alongside Skylar are Ethan Hesler from Ancaster High and Fatima Zakar from Saltfleet, also beginning their terms as student trustees in September. Congratulations to all three students for being chosen by their peers to represent them at the trustee board table. You play a critically important role in the political process and I wish you all the success possible.

Finally, thank you to the outgoing student trustees, Ahona and Cameron, for their great work through these challenging times. Cameron’s first term was actually during my final year of serving Ward 3 as Trustee, so I had the great honour of watching his voice grow, and witnessing the hard work he put into his role on the transition committee for Delta and SJAM. Best of luck to you both in your future endeavors. 

And that’s The Point.

You can find a statement from HWDSB Kids Need Help regarding the termination of HWDSB’s partnership with the Police Liaison Program at this link.  Have something to say on this topic? You can also submit your story ideas or opinion pieces to contactthepoint@gmail.com.

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