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RCMP presence welcomed in Central Okanagan public schools

Staff survey feedback overwhelmingly positive from students, staff and parents

Police officers walking the hallways of Central Okanagan public schools have widespread approval based on an informal survey done by school district staff.

The results showed 91 per cent positive response to police liaison officers in the schools from parents, 90.6 per cent from staff and 93 per cent from students.

The survey data collection was based on empathy interviews by principals, vice-principals and district staff with parents and students at 10 schools across various family zones – four elementary, two middle and four secondary – accounting for more than 100 empathy interviews.

The inquiry about RCMP school resource officers (SROs) came from a presentation at a recent District Safe Schools Committee meeting.

The need to review the program evolved from the Vancouver school board voting to end a school liaison officer program due to concerns that uniformed officers make some students anxious or upset, including many identifying as Black, Indigenous or people of colour.

The decision was supported by several groups, including the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council and associations representing elementary and secondary school teachers in that city.

As discussed at the board of education meeting on Wednesday (June 9), Kevin Kaardal cautioned the report is a first step in securing widespread feedback on how the SOR program will operate going forward.

Wayne Broughton, a Kelowna by-election school trustee candidate, submitted a question at the Zoom meeting raising concerns about the data collection methodology behind the survey as an accurate reflection of how parents and students feel about the program.

Kaardal said reaching out to the community further will make sure any voices of concern are heard.

“As we move forward, we want the program to have the support of the community and not be one that creates fear and those sorts of things. The next steps in this process will be critical,” he said.

Trustee Norah Bowman said anxieties are raised both from police in uniform and police in plainclothes in schools, and there is a question of how police officers armed with guns are perceived by students.

“I take it as a good thing that we are having this discussion,” Bowman said.

Baxter said the trigger behind the discussion has been the actions of other school districts, “so pretending that is not happening is not the right way to go about it.”

She also noted that no parents have ever contacted her personally to voice concerns about the RCMP school liaison initiative.

Some of the responses from students to the survey interviews included in the staff report were:

“It helps students to have access to RCMP and keeps kids moving towards making better decisions.”

“When we see a police vehicle in front of our school, we know it’s our SRO and it’s OK.”

“Maybe some people are intimidated because of the uniform, so they don’t want to talk to them.”

“Our SRO is in the office a lot. Maybe walk through the school or come to events like assemblies or talk to us outside at lunchtime.”

The survey also revealed school staff recognition that although a minority of students are conditioned to view the police negatively and may be uncomfortable with a police presence, the SRO program is particularly important for them as it provides these students with unique and vital opportunities for empowerment.

“Through one-to-one positive relationships and direct experiences that build trust, SROs provide students with educational and healing opportunities they will otherwise not likely have access to at any other time of their lives,” said the staff response in the report.

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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