Parents seek input on police in schools

  • July 14, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Parents and student councils should be consulted before the Catholic school board assigns police to about eight high schools, says a Toronto-based parents’ group.

Dan Barrett, vice-chair to the board of directors of the Toronto Association of Parents in Catholic Education, said the announcement came as a surprise.

“It’s not even on the radar for a lot of parents,” he said. “It bothers me that parents weren’t consulted.

“You’re trying to create an open society to really empower the parents as a resource and engage the community to help, and they seem to be missing an opportunity which is a shame, but maybe they’ll figure it out and fix it in September.”

Thirty police officers will be assigned to 22 Toronto public high schools and eight Catholic high schools this fall, said Mary Jo Deighan, spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

According to the Board, no formal consultation meetings have been planned with parents, but discussions will take place at individual schools during the first Catholic School Advisory Councils meetings this fall. And letters will be sent to parents of high school students at the end of August.

Having police in schools isn’t a new idea, according to Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash, referring to weekly or bi-weekly school visits by Toronto police and its educational programs on crime prevention.

The new program “has the potential to be an excellent working relationship” and will enable students to get to know police officers, Pugash said.

Concerns about school safety were ignited last year when a 15-year-old student was gunned down in the hallway of a public high school.

In May, the Toronto District School Board approved a recommendation by a safety panel to have a police presence in the system.

A Toronto Sun report said lockdowns have increased at Toronto Catholic schools this year. Eighteen incidents led 31 schools into lockdown, up from 15 from last year.

These were all external lockdowns where the exterior of the school was closed to keep out potential danger.

Back in November, the public and Catholic boards signed a protocol with Toronto police which seeks to promote a safe school environment and strengthen police and school partnerships.

Deighan said one of the primary goals of the upcoming program is to build relationships between the community, schools and the police.

Yet the idea of having armed police in schools could be a concern, Barrett said.

Barrett said that he understands Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s concern about safety but added, “I know that not all parents are going to be comfortable with that sort of development.”

“I think it’s a sad fact that we have to have police in our high schools,” said Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education.

Evoy wondered if both school boards were being compared “fairly” and if they have similar problems.

Meanwhile, Lou Rocha, executive director of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario, said his group wasn’t consulted about the new initiative and that no principals had asked the council for advice.

The Toronto Catholic Board said it will continue meeting frequently with police and will announce the schools with police presence at the end of August. Both boards will select schools that are “central to a good hub of schools,” Deighan said.

Barrett said it’s still early in the process but overall, there probably won’t be a problem with the plan since connecting with police is necessary for schools and the community.

Even so, “We should tread softly,” Barrett said, “because there are too many unknowns.”

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