The dust has not settled in the United States over the horrific slaughter at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February. Students and concerned adults (including parents and teachers) were part of ‘March for Our Lives’ in major American cities on March 24th. The mass rallies occurred after a week that was witness to students walking out of school classes at different times, a statement against violence in schools, especially where guns are involved.

Canada’s attitude about firearms, plus restrictive legislation, puts our students in a less risky position, but does that mean that we’re sufficiently safe, such that our schools don’t need enhanced (more visible, intrusive) security? Is the traditional approach (looked at in Part 1) enough?

Certainly in Ontario, the issue of ‘police presence’ in schools (especially in large municipalities) has been a lightning rod for heated debate and controversial decisions. Not unlike sex education, there has been heavy polarization, and shrill divisiveness. Unfortunately, whether or not to have police officers in a school has been a convenient pretext for some activists to pursue agendas that obscure the fundamental question, and goal, of safety and a secure (free) learning environment for students and their teachers, and how best to achieve that.

For school trustees, politics and the ballot box are seemingly ever present ‘elephants in the room’. Some self-styled ‘activists’ castigate police presence as a ‘statement against minorities’, even racism. There is likely a truth somewhere here (beyond emotionally sourced points of view), but parents and ratepayers are hard pressed when they try to determine the actual state of affairs and if the need exists, and what measures will work.

Thanks to initiatives by 2 Carleton University professors in 2014, a comprehensive 3-year study that involved 5 multiethnic high schools in the Region of Peel (Brampton and Mississauga, west of Toronto) was undertaken. The focus was upon the effectiveness (in several capacities) of the ‘SRO’ (School Resource Officer – specially selected/trained Peel Police officers, who had a visible, physical presence in a high school): Highly regarded Christie Blatchford wrote a column about the study after the Toronto District School Board’s decision to end its comparable ‘SRO’ program. She summed things up, “Toronto preferred, to use that ghastly phrase, the ‘fake news’ of activist shouting; Peel opted for the facts.”

The study embraced many aspects and impacts of police presence, including findings that 75% of students felt safer because of the ‘SRO’, some also believing that they were less likely to be bullied, especially by a ‘teenage gang’.

Are these findings valid, as it were, ‘across the board’ (ie. applicable and useful in other communities)? Is the ‘SRO’ the only answer to safety and security concerns in this day and age? Is the need for an ‘’SRO’ a sign of failure in modern education, and should we simply resign ourselves? Are there better ways?

These are tough, open questions. The answers are not obvious, at least in Canada (as opposed to the USA), and maybe that’s fortunate, to a point. For one thing, everyone has a responsibility, directly and indirectly. And the worst response is to point a finger and exclaim that it’s some else’s job and their fault, while doing nothing about it personally (at home, for your school, in community centres and other public places).

Safety and security for our youth is a right, yet without responsible and responsive citizenship exercised by parents, teachers, and other stakeholders in public education, it’s far from assured.

(Robert MacFarlane is a graduate of Princeton University, and he has tutored in English at all grade levels for several years with Book Smart Tutors.)

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